Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens had a strong message for the teenagers who led marches over the weekend calling for tighter gun-control regulations: Demand the repeal of the Second Amendment.
In an opinion piece published in the New York Times on Tuesday, the 97-year-old retired justice, who was nominated to the court by Republican President Gerald Ford but often ruled with his more liberal colleagues, said the only way to create a path for significant gun-control legislation was through a full repeal of the Second Amendment, which protects the rights of all Americans "to keep and bear arms."
"Concern that a national standing army might pose a threat to the security of the separate states led to the adoption of that amendment," Stevens wrote. "Today that concern is a relic of the 18th century."
Chris Cox, the executive director of the National Rifle Association, blasted Stevens' opinion piece as a radical attack on the individual rights of American citizens and suggested banning all guns was the secret agenda of both the media and protestors who took part in last week's march.
"Emboldened by the mainstream media, the gun-control lobby is no longer distancing themselves from the radical idea of repealing the Second Amendment and banning all firearms," Cox said in a statement. "The men and women of the National Rifle Association, along with the majority of the American people and the Supreme Court, believe in the Second Amendment right to self-protection and we will unapologetically continue to fight to protect this fundamental freedom."
Stevens was still a sitting justice in 2008, when the Supreme Court ruled five to four in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment offered blanket protection for an individual's right to possess a firearm, regardless of the person's connection to a militia. The ruling, which Stevens wrote "has provided the N.R.A. with a propaganda weapon of immense power," reversed Supreme Court decisions going back to 1939, when the court ruled in United States v. Miller that Congress could ban ownership of short-barreled shotguns had no connection to military or militia activity.
Stevens wrote the primary dissenting opinion in the Heller case, claiming that the majority's opinion was based on a "strained and unpersuasive" reading to the amendment's text.
"Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature's authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms," Stevens wrote. "Specifically, there is no indication that the Framers of the Amendment intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution."
Stevens' opinion piece in the Times will undoubtedly stoke anger among some conservative media figures, who have claimed that the outspoken survivors of the deadly Valentine's Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida were attempting to strip Americans of their right to own firearms.
Stevens retired from the court in 2010 after having served 35 years.