In a recent New York Times commentary, former U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens argued that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—the one that acknowledges the “right to keep and bear arms”—is a “relic of the 18th century.” Justice Stevens wants “a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment” as a simple way to fight the National Rifle Association, which blocks gun-control legislation.

Citizens might wonder what would happen if Justice Stevens got his way. A simple series of tests might prove helpful.

  • Order a pizza and calculate time until delivery. Now remember that violent criminals do not obey gun-control laws, so the first time an armed assailant appears at your house, calculate the time it takes police to arrive.
  • Imagine you are attending a holiday party in a government office in San Bernardino, California. Two terrorists enter with AR-15 “assault” rifles and begin shooting. Determine what might happen if you have a handgun. Compare that with what might happen if you are unarmed.
  • Research the Los Angeles riots of 1992, when mobs torched and looted businesses. If such a mob threatened your store or home, imagine what you might do with a rifle or handgun. Contrast that with what might happen if you have no firearm.
  • You are out for a walk on Halloween in New York City when a man in a truck starts running down pedestrians. Imagine how you could stop this attack with a handgun. Contrast that with the outcome if the driver should find you unarmed.
  • Imagine too that you lived under the kind of regime the Nazis imposed. As author Stephen P. Halbrook showed in Gun Control in the Third Reich: Disarming the Jews and ‘Enemies of the State’, that turns out to be very much like the sort of conditions Justice Stevens wants to impose on the United States.

The Nazis used the gun registry of the former Weimar Republic to keep firearms from disfavored groups. Under the Nazis, certain citizens were thought not to need guns to protect themselves, and hunting and sport shooting were not legitimate needs according to the government.

The German National Socialists disarmed the populace, and that is why no effective resistance arose in Germany. Without firearms the populace was vulnerable to mass repression and genocide.

In similar style, the Ottoman Turks disarmed the Armenians before murdering more than 1 million of them. The lesson should be clear.

Disarming the people is a prelude to repression. And according to the Second Amendment, it is “the people” who have the right to keep and bear arms. As he does now, when Justice Stevens was on the high court, he wanted to take away that right, and that raises another issue, that of appointing justices of the U.S. Supreme Court to fixed rather than life terms and giving the people a say in their tenures. In the meantime, the people must retain their right to keep and bear arms.