Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens made headlines last week, when he called for a Second Amendment repeal.
In a New York Times op-ed, Stevens called the original intent — to allow armed militias that could protect individual states from tyranny — a "relic of the 18th century." He said that for centuries, it was generally held that the amendment did not preclude government gun control.
"For over 200 years after the adoption of the Second Amendment, it was uniformly understood as not placing any limit on either federal or state authority to enact gun control legislation," he wrote. "In 1939 the Supreme Court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a “well regulated militia.”
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But is a Second Amendment repeal actually possible?
Barring a tectonic shift in attitudes and political power, the chances are slim to none. Even setting aside today's political polarization and the gun lobby's influence, the Constitutional framers purposely made the process of amending the Constitution extremely difficult.
Any proposed amendment has to be approved by two-thirds of both the Senate and the House, then ratified by two-thirds of the states. Or two-thirds of the states could independently call for a Constitutional convention.
Republicans — who typically oppose gun restrictions — control both houses of Congress and 32 out of 50 state legislatures.
“That's a very difficult challenge in the best of times; it’s even more difficult in the current times,” Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University, told Time. “The chances of securing two-thirds of both houses [of Congress] is rather remote, and the chances of securing ratification of 38 states is virtually nonexistent.”
In a February Economist/YouGov poll, only 21 percent of Americans said they wanted the Second Amendment to be repealed. Sixty percent were opposed to a Second Amendment repeal.
The last proposed constitutional amendment of a similar scale, the Equal Rights Amendment, was intended to guarantee equal rights for all Americans regardless of sex. It passed Congress in 1972 and was submitted to the states for ratification. Although it had significant public support and received a major boost from the women's movement, only 35 of the required states ratified it by the 1982 deadline, and it faded from public consciousness.
The last successful constitutional amendment, in 1992, delayed new laws affecting Congressional salaries from going into effect until the next session of Congress. It had been proposed 202 years earlier.