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Repeal the Second Amendment? Here’s how it would work—and why it’s so hard

Repeal the Second Amendment? Here’s how it would work—and why it’s so hard
[Photo: Steve Petteway/Wikimedia Commons]

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens published an op-ed in the New York Times today suggesting that the solution to America’s gun problem is simple–repeal the Second Amendment.

Stevens argues that the amendment is a “relic of the 18th century,” saying the court screwed up in its 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. The decision overruled prior law and held that the Second Amendment meant individuals have an inherent right to own guns for lawful purposes. Per Stevens, the ruling handed the NRA a “propaganda weapon of immense power” and has been extended to defend the private ownership of assault rifles like the AR-15.

According to Stevens, Heller should be overturned via a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment. How unlikely is that? Throughout its history, the United States has only repealed one amendment–the puritanical and useless 18th Amendment, which prohibited alcohol. That amendment was repealed through ratification of the 21st Amendment.

Here’s how the process works, according to the National Archives.

  • A proposed amendment to the Constitution must first be passed by Congress with two-thirds majorities in both the House and the Senate.
  • Then, three-fourths of the states must ratify the amendment. That’s done either through getting the state legislatures to approve of it or by ratifying conventions. Three-fourths is a high bar–if as few as 13 states refuse to approve the change, the amendment stalls. Considering how many states are considered gun-friendly in this new Zippia survey, it’s unlikely that the amendment would survive.
  • The other option for repealing the Second Amendment is more radical: Calling for a Constitutional Convention under Article V of the Constitution (a.k.a. an “Article V convention“). If two-thirds of the state legislatures call for a new convention, they could convene delegations and start drafting new amendments. It’s understandably a controversial idea, but arguably could be a way to repeal the Second Amendment.

Repealing an amendment of our beloved Constitution sounds extreme, but some 70% of Americans want more gun control and repealing the Second Amendment–and overturning Heller–may be the most effective way to achieve that.

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