Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens called for Congress to tighten gun laws in the wake of shootings such as the one that took place in Aurora, Colorado.
Stevens noted that the legal precedent for restricting gun rights — United States vs. Miller — still stands, despite the ruling in the 2005 Heller case that overturned the Washington, D.C., ban on owning handguns, even in one’s own home.
“[Miller] was generally understood to limiting the scope of the Second Amendment to the uses of arms that were related to military activities,” Stevens said today during a question-and-answer session after a speech today with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s Legal Action Project. “The Court did not overrule Miller [in Heller]. Instead it ‘read Miller to say only that the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns . . . Thus, the Second Amendment provides no obstacle to regulations permitting the ownership or the use of the sorts of the automatic weapons used in the tragic multiple killings in Virginia, Colorado, or Arizona in recent years.”
Stevens criticized Congress for failing to pass such laws.
“I find it almost difficult to accept the fact that, notwithstanding the recent tragedies that I mentioned — you mentioned — how little activity there’s been in lawmaking bodies to address this issue,” Stevens said during the question-and-answer session. “The fact that Congress doesn’t address it, I find mind-boggling, to tell you the truth.” The event began with a video montage newscasts covering recent shootings, such as the Batman shooting and the attack on a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin.
He added that the Heller decision leaves the door open to banning the carry of weapons in public. “There’s a very powerful argument for saying it does not extend to disagreeing with local communities about decisions about which public places they should not be permitted to be carried [in],” Stevens said.
Stevens also had a recommendation for people who keep a weapon in their homes for self-defense purposes. “Maybe you have some kind of constitutional right to have a cell phone with a pre-dialed 911 in the number at your bedside and that might provide you with a little better protection than a gun which you’re not used to using,” he said to laughter.
The National Rifle Association believes that President Obama will “stack the court” with anti-gun justices if he is reelected and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kennedy leave.
“If those three left, he could stack the court with a 6-3 majority rule for the next 30 years,” Chris Cox, executive director at the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in April. “If that happens, the Second Amendment will be reduced to a government-granted privilege.”