No Justice Stevens, “High-Powered Automatic Weapons” were not used in Newtown

April 11th, 2014

Justice Stevens has a new Op-Ed promoting his new book about Six Amendments to add to the Constitution (I listed them here). There is a glaring error in the first sentence.

Following the massacre of grammar-school children in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, high-powered automatic weapons have been used to kill innocent victims in more senseless public incidents.

No. There were no “high-powered automatic weapons.” A semi-automatic rifle was used. Automatic weapons are illegal under federal law. Semi-automatic rifles are legal. And those rulings predate Heller. I appreciate that he does not agree with Scalia about the nature of the Second Amendment, but at least get your facts right.

Same for Virginia, Colorado, and Arizona, semi-automatic weapons were used, not automatic weapons.

Thus, even as generously construed in Heller, the Second Amendment provides no obstacle to regulations prohibiting the ownership or use of the sorts of automatic weapons used in the tragic multiple killings in Virginia, Colorado and Arizona in recent years.

Though, he is right in his second and third sentences.

Those killings, however, are only a fragment of the total harm caused by the misuse of firearms. Each year, more than 30,000 people die in the United States in firearm-related incidents. Many of those deaths involve handguns.

Deaths by mass shootings are a tiny, tiny fraction of gun deaths, as I discuss in The Shooting Cycle. The overwhelming majority of gundeaths are from the handgun–the very gun that was protected in Heller.

By the way, Stevens’s amendment to the Second Amendment doesn’t even make sense.

 A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.

Why would there be an individual right to keep and bear arms in the militia? Could a commanding officer not take away a militiaman’s rifle because of the Second Amendment? Almost certainly the right in the militia would have to be collective.

Taking Stevens’s dissent in Heller seriously would require more than adding five words. How bout this:

 A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the states to maintain militias shall not be infringed.

It would make no mention of keeping and bearing arms.

I’ve resisted the urge to review Stevens’s book, which I have a copy of. I have too many other projects to pursue.