Sandbagging the 2nd Amendment: Ex-justice hurts his own cause with New York Times op-ed

You might think a 97-year-old guy who hasn't been heard from in years wouldn't have the firepower to influence the gun control debate.

But then John Paul Stevens came along and called for repealing the Second Amendment.

And he did it with the megaphone of the New York Times op-ed page.

My first thought, of course, was that this will never happen, even if a former Supreme Court justice thinks it's a good idea.

And my second thought was that Stevens has really set back the cause of reformers who hoped to pass modest gun legislation in the wake of the Florida school shooting.

Now it's easy for the gun rights side to say that reform advocates secretly hope for a radical agenda, as outlined by Stevens, that would abolish constitutional protections for gun owners.

In the Times piece, the ex-justice dismisses the amendment--"a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed"—as "a relic of the 18th century."

The Gerald Ford appointee describes how he was one of four dissenters in the 2008 Heller case that upheld the right to bear arms, striking down the District of Columbia’s handgun ban.

But Stevens really seems out of touch when he says junking that part of the Bill of Rights "would be simple," as well as weaken the NRA's clout.

Simple? Does a learned jurist not understand how hard it is to pass or repeal any constitutional amendment—a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress along with approval by three-quarters of the states—let alone one on such a divisive topic?

President Trump, who embraced certain gun-control measures in televised meetings before backing away, broke out the all-caps on his Twitter:

"THE SECOND AMENDMENT WILL NEVER BE REPEALED! As much as Democrats would like to see this happen ... "

You see the way he attributed Stevens' sentiment to "the Democrats"—and turned it into a vote-GOP pitch for 2018.

Dianne Feinstein said she doesn't think it's possible to rescind the Second Amendment and renewed her pitch for banning assault-style weapons and raising the age for gun purchases to 21.

The Washington Post’s Fix column declared that "rarely do we see such an unhelpful, untimely and fanciful idea as the one put forward by retired Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens." This, said the piece, is about the best thing Republicans could have hoped for.

A columnist at Law and Crime went so far as to write that it was "irresponsible" for the Times to publish the piece:

"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."

I happen to agree with that. But newspaper opinion pages are supposed to publish provocative ideas, even if they're politically unrealistic. So that criticism is over the top.

If John Paul Stevens, who retired eight years ago, wanted to stir a debate, I guess he succeeded. But there's little question he hurt the cause he is trying to embrace.