At first, social media reaction to former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’ call to repeal the 2nd Amendment was hailed as a shift in the Overton window on gun control. Later, some began to have second thoughts on how the Overton window shifted, and on which topics. Washington Post analyst Aaron Blake calls Stevens’ op-ed “supremely unhelpful” … to Democrats, anyway. Blake thinks it will be very helpful to the GOP:
One of the biggest threats to the recovery of the Democratic Party these days is overreach. Having seen what Republicans have accomplished while pushing to the right, Democrats are debating how hard to push in the opposite direction — on the minimum wage, on abortion, on health care and on education. A party that was once afraid of being tagged with supporting “government-run” health care is increasingly okay with the word “liberal” and even voted in droves for a self-described socialist in 2016. And its 2020 hopefuls are leading the leftward charge.
But rarely do we see such an unhelpful and fanciful idea as the one put forward by liberal former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens.
In a New York Times op-ed on Tuesday, Stevens calls for a repeal of the Second Amendment. The move might as well be considered an in-kind contribution to the National Rifle Association, to Republicans’ efforts to keep the House and Senate in 2018, and to President Trump’s 2020 reelection bid. In one fell swoop, Stevens has lent credence to the talking point that the left really just wants to get rid of gun ownership and reasserted the need for gun-rights supporters to prevent his ilk from ever being appointed again (with the most obvious answer being: Vote Republican).
Er … yup, especially with an argument this weak. The GOP will no doubt make that point repeatedly in states where Democratic incumbents face electorates that voted for Trump in 2016. Republicans had already begun to latch onto Dean Heller’s strategy of predicting an imminent Anthony Kennedy retirement, but that’s still somewhat theoretical. Having a former Supreme Court justice remind those voters about what Democrats might demand for a replacement with control of the Senate will certainly feel a lot more urgent.
And the most obvious answer to that concern is “vote Republican.” It’s the kind of issue that will fire up voters who may have grown complacent or moribund, which is why Law and Crime’s Matt Naham calls Stevens’ argument and the New York Times’ decision to publish it “irresponsible”:
Although the repeal of a constitutional amendment is not without precedent — see what the Twenty-first Amendment is for — the Stevens op-ed comes at a time when students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been trying to convince the gun rights advocates to give an inch on the subject of gun control.
Believe it or not, Stevens, and The New York Times, just made the climate of debate over guns even worse than it already is. The op-ed confirms in a straightforward way what many people already believe gun control is about: gun control and gun grabbing. Or, put another way, stripping people of rights guaranteed by being an American. …
Stevens went from merely stating the expressed positions of the Parkland teens and praising them to using his authority as a former Supreme Court justice to tell the students what they should believe and should do, regardless of the cost this might have to their movement.
Well, let’s take a look at these arguments for a moment. Even without Stevens, many of the marchers and other demonstrators around the country had called for a repeal of the 2nd Amendment. In effect, Stevens was agreeing with some of the more honest demonstrators and attempting to offer political support for that position, not telling them “what they should believe and should do.”
Naham seems not to grasp the purpose of op-eds and argument. People write op-eds, columns, blogs, and other vehicles for opinion to attempt to convince readers to adopt their positions and proposals. What is Naham doing in his response but to tell Stevens, the New York Times, and others who agree with Stevens to shut up? Isn’t that telling some — including the students — what they should believe and what they should do?
Besides that, Naham’s argument on the nature of gun control is, er, odd. To say that gun control is about controlling guns is about as plain as it gets. Banning certain kinds of firearms over others involves at least the narrowing of rights in the notably arbitrary manner in which some proposals have been framed, especially the so-called “assault weapons ban.” Calls have been made since the Parkland shooting to take currently legal firearms away from law-abiding owners, which involves “grabbing” them away. Gun control means gun control, period.
Stevens’ argument may be a gift to the GOP. The panic arising from it from gun-control advocates and the incoherence in the response is no less a gift.