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Had the recent massacre of 17 people at a Florida high school been different in one respect--that is, had alleged perpetrator Nikolas Cruz shouted "Allahu akbar" during the course of his rampage--conservatives would be demanding another round of get-tough measures.

Tougher immigration laws. Tougher domestic surveillance. A rollback of Miranda rights for the accused. Possibly even a Muslim registry. Constitutional protections and American ideals, goes the argument, must sometimes yield to urgent public safety concerns.

But Cruz, like Las Vegas' Stephen Paddock or Newtown's Adam Lanza and so many other mass murderers before them, is just another killer without a cause. Collectively, their carnages account for some 1,800 deaths and close to 7,000 injuries in the United States since the beginning of 2013, according to the Guardian, though that's only a small fraction of overall gun-related deaths. And conservatives have next to nothing of use to say about it.

Well, almost nothing. Some conservatives talk about the importance of mental-health interventions with the potentially violent. Florida Gov. Rick Scott wants to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill. The Obama administration tried to do that after the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre by requiring the Social Security Administration to submit the names of severely unwell persons to the FBI.

Congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump reversed the rule a year ago. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) introduced a "red flag" bill in May that would make it easier for family members to keep firearms out of the hands of potentially dangerous relatives. The bill has 50 Democratic co-sponsors, but not one Republican. Maybe the Parkland massacre will shame the majority into embracing the legislation.

But such laws can achieve only so much. Keeping track of dangerously unstable people who shouldn't own guns but do is hard: Devin Kelley, the Texas church shooter, had once escaped from a mental health hospital and was legally barred from buying the weapon he used to murder 26 people in November. Nor can the federal government be in the business of getting unwell people to take their meds. That way lies the path to a Clockwork Orange.

Beyond that, the conservative answer is: more guns.

It's true that a gun in the right hands at the right time and place can save lives, as former National Rifle Association instructor Stephen Willeford proved when he shot Kelley as the latter emerged from the church. No sensible society should want to keep arms out of hands like his.

But that's an argument for greater discrimination in terms of who should get to own a gun, not less. The United States has, by far, more guns in more hands than any other country in the developed world. It has by far the highest incidence of firearm-related homicides and suicides. Correlation is not causation, but since Americans aren't dramatically crazier than other nationalities, what other explanation is there?

Nor is it remotely true, as gun advocates contend, that gun bans necessarily result in increased murder rates. The homicide rates in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom have all fallen since enacting strict national gun control. Conservatives are supposed to be empiricists, not idealists. They should learn the lesson of experience.

So all this is an argument for tougher gun-control laws, right? Well, not exactly.

In October, after the Las Vegas massacre, I made the case in this column for repealing the Second Amendment. The column is still being criticized by conservatives for reasons that usually miss the point. We need to repeal the Second Amendment because most gun-control legislation is ineffective when most Americans have a guaranteed constitutional right to purchase deadly weaponry in nearly unlimited quantities.

There's a good case to be made for owning a handgun for self-defense or a rifle for hunting. There is no remotely sane case for being allowed to purchase, as Paddock did, 33 firearms in the space of a year. But that change can't happen without a constitutional fix. Anything less does little more than treat the symptoms of the disease.

I know what the objections to this argument will be. What about John Locke and Cesare Beccaria? What about the preservation of American liberties and the encroachments of bureaucratic liberal despotism?

Right. What about another 17 murdered souls, and their classmates and families, and the inability of today's conservatives to offer anything except false bromides and empty prayers?


Bret Stephens is a New York Times columnist.

Editorial on 02/23/2018

Print Headline: Repeal Second Amendment

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  • RBear
    February 23, 2018 at 6:51 a.m.

    Good case made, but I'm not there in repeal of the Second. However, this one will draw the trolls like moths to a flame.

  • Nljwbailey06081103
    February 23, 2018 at 8:22 a.m.

    Very interesting article. He makes some excellent points for repealing the Second Amendment. Does it have to be repealed or can it be rewritten? (I apologize if this is a dumb question, but obviously government was not a strong suit of mine in school)

  • BoudinMan
    February 23, 2018 at 8:26 a.m.

    Folks, this is a conservative voice at The New York Times. I'm with you. RB. Before we start tinkering too much with the Bill of Rights, we need to take a hard look at alternatives. Much of the problem is there are too many people who believe that the rights in the 2nd amendment are absolute. If we can abridge the right of free speech, why is this sacrosanct?

  • hah406
    February 23, 2018 at 8:38 a.m.

    I am with you on that Boudin. No right is absolute, except for the right to life. The U.S. doesn't have a higher percentage of the population with mental illness than any other developed country. We are, however, the only country that arms the mentally ill. The NRA advocates FOR allowing the mentally ill to possess guns. They are not interested in making schools or any other part of society safer. They are only interested in selling more guns, and Trump did their bidding when he rolled back the Obama regulation on mental health reporting.

  • wildblueyonder
    February 23, 2018 at 9:03 a.m.

    Another worthless piece of "journalism" by the so-called "conservative" Bret Stephens.

  • BoudinMan
    February 23, 2018 at 9:15 a.m.

    hah, yes, the NRA is all about the gun manufacturers selling more guns. They have hoodwinked the public into believing they are about "freedoms." I can remember when they were truly an organization that was dedicated to advance issues that benefited hunters. They have left that ideology far behind. They are simply an organization that promotes the sales of guns to benefit the gun manufacturers.

  • 3WorldState1
    February 23, 2018 at 10:06 a.m.

    The NRA president made 5 Million dollars last year. And rubes argue that the guy running an airport shouldn't make 150k.
    Take money out of politics and the NRA goes back to what it once was. Teaching hunter safety, keeping forests clean. They went off the rails like the GOP.

  • GeneralMac
    February 23, 2018 at 10:10 a.m.

    As I have stated from the day after the shooting, hysteria prevails .

    EXHIBIT A.......Repeal 2nd Amendment

  • MaxCady
    February 23, 2018 at 10:25 a.m.

    @3ws1, not $150K, try almost double that at $279K in total compensation. That's the highest in city government. BTW, I live in the city.

  • TimberTopper
    February 23, 2018 at 10:32 a.m.

    mac, looks as if you read all the way through the title, no further. Still using that rank to make you feel like you are important I see!