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Justice Stevens: Make 6 changes to Constitution

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In the aftermath of the Connecticut school shootings that left 20 first-graders and six educators dead, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens began thinking about ways to prevent a repeat.

The result is Stevens' new book - his second since retiring from the court at age 90 - in which he calls for no fewer than six changes to the Constitution, of which two are directly related to guns. Others would abolish the death penalty, make it easier to limit spending on elections and rein in partisan drawing of electoral districts.

His proposed amendments generally would overrule major Supreme Court decisions with which he disagrees, including ones on guns and campaign finance in which he dissented.

The book, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, is being published Tuesday by Little, Brown and Co., two days after Stevens' 94th birthday.

Stevens said in an interview with The Associated Press that the Newtown, Conn., shootings in December 2012 made him think about doing "whatever we could to prevent such a thing from happening again."

He said he was bothered by press reports about gaps in the federal government database for checking the background of prospective gun buyers. Those gaps exist because the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that states could not be forced to participate in the background check system. Stevens dissented from the court's 5-4 ruling in Printz v. United States.

One amendment would allow Congress to force state participation in gun checks, while a second would change the Second Amendment to permit gun control. Stevens was on the losing end of another 5-4 decision in 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court declared for the first time that Americans have a right to own a gun for self-defense.

He acknowledged that his proposed change would allow Congress to do something unthinkable in today's environment: ban gun ownership altogether.

"I'd think the chance of changing the Second Amendment is pretty remote," Stevens said. "The purpose is to cause further reflection over a period of time because it seems to me with ample time and ample reflection, people in the United States would come to the same conclusion that people in other countries have."

Justices often say that their dissenting opinions are written with the hope that today's dissent might attract a majority on some future court.

But Stevens has gone a step beyond by proposing the constitutional changes. Asked whether the book could in part be seen as "sour grapes," he readily agreed.

"To a certain extent, it's no doubt true, because I do think the court made some serious mistakes, as I did point out in my dissents," he said. "But I've been criticized for making speeches since I retired. Writing the book is not much different from continuing to speak about things I find interesting."

A recent example is the court's decision, again by a 5-4 vote, to strike down limits in federal law on the total contributions wealthy individuals can make to candidates for Congress and president, political parties and political action committees. Stevens said the decision follows from the 2010 ruling in Citizens United that lifted limits on political spending by corporations and labor unions. Again, he was in the dissent in another 5-4 ruling.

Those cases, he said, talk about the importance of public participation in the electoral process. But this month's decision on the overall limits is "not about electing your representative," Stevens said. "It's about financing the election of representatives of other people. It's about the influence of out-of-state voters on the election in your district. It sort of exposes a basic flaw in the recent cases."

Stevens marked his 94th birthday Sunday, still in excellent health, but lately feeling his age. Speaking to AP a few days before his birthday, he said, "It's going to come and pass. I'm not sure it's something to celebrate."

Join the discussion

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llllux April 21 2014 at 10:08 PM

Perhaps we should just make it an accomplice felony if someone's gun is used to shoot or kill a person and the weapon hadn't been transferred or reported stolen within the prior 24 hours. I suspect an awful lot of people might consider actually finding and locking up their weapons and the trail for weapons would increase dramatically over the next few years.

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2 replies
veloci1 llllux April 21 2014 at 10:12 PM

1. if you include transfer, the only system which will work is one which includes registration.

2. Registration leads to confiscation.

Check Weimar Republic Germany and The Third Reich. Ask the Jews how well that worked for them.

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1 reply
sam54ct veloci1 April 21 2014 at 10:20 PM

Check, Canada, England, Australia, Germany, Sweden, etc., no confiscation, all work with registration, all have approximately 29,000 fewer deaths by firearms yearly.

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neutralslamm llllux April 21 2014 at 10:18 PM

How about if the person that pulls the trigger and kills goes to prison and is charged with murder, and put to death?

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JOSEPH April 21 2014 at 9:44 PM

This guy is probably senile.

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bjhdkh April 21 2014 at 9:44 PM

If the old bird wants a revolution before he dies, he just gave the perfect prescription for it. His words assume that shooter would not have used a bomb instead and blown the whole school to kingdom come, he also assumes that some anti gun nuts didn't put the insane shooter up to the dirty deed, he also assumes that if the teachers were armed the horrible incident would have happened. This is a argument for more guns not less. In a society that is becoming more and more ruled by government laws, presidential directives, spying on the people we now more then ever need the right to end a government if need be to maintain our freedom, that is what the second amendment was about not hunting. Thank God he is off the court.

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2 replies
kmcc895370 bjhdkh April 21 2014 at 10:09 PM

Amen to that and I hope his book ends up in the dollar bin.

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sam54ct bjhdkh April 21 2014 at 10:35 PM

Your arguement is delusional, hoepfully you do not vote, and if you do, please vote Democrat. NO ONE in their right mind would suggest someone set up the Newtown shooting. As for a Revolution, ever been to War, thought not, otherwise you'd be less inclinded to even mention the subject. I did serve, as did three of my cousins, two dead, two alive.

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j1935waspm April 21 2014 at 9:44 PM

Yep, the nutty people don't use guns or knives or any other inanimate object, those darn guns (and other objects do it by themselves. Liberals just don't get it.

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neutralslamm April 21 2014 at 9:41 PM

I can see gun sales double or triple AGAIN after that idiots commentary gets out, when will the morons learn?

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1 reply
jbhtonto neutralslamm April 21 2014 at 10:14 PM

I hope you're wrong, but I wouldn't doubt it. Gun & ammo manufacturers are just recently catching up from the Liberal push a year ago. I reload, but I still need powder, primers, etc. If the Left was trying to decrease gun ownership, they figuratively shot themselves in the foot on that one.

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redchips April 21 2014 at 9:39 PM

He's 90 and wears a bow tie, "nuff said"

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1 reply
RXTOXICWASTE redchips April 21 2014 at 9:48 PM

probably wore a six gun on his hip as a kid.

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Garland April 22 2014 at 9:29 AM

the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. I can think of a lot more ammendents to the constitution. 20 years for surpreme court judge. time limit on all representatives. a six year time limit for a president. age limit for all representatives. no life time retirement and medical. they should pay like everyone else. they must follow the same laws they make.

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mykecusa@netscap April 21 2014 at 9:37 PM

People who like to be in control seem to always have a law, or set of laws, that others are to follow. It is as though by command human behavior can be changed. Such an illusion. Controlling guns is not the answer to ameliorating human violence. Guns are just things. The violence does not come from guns.

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therobbdogg01 April 21 2014 at 9:36 PM

Senility is a wonderful thing. No worries, no values, no responsibility for your actions. Thank God in Heaven, this old, liberal S.O.B. is not on the bench anymore. When only criminals have guns, personal violence escalates. Look at the UK and Austrailia. They took away those peoples gun ownership rights and now they are at the mercy of the criminals and make criminals of the sane gun owners.

There should be a public book burning of this morons book, in his home town, before he dies to show him he's an idiot. "FROM MY COLD, DEAD HANDS"

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1 reply
sjohn1210 therobbdogg01 April 21 2014 at 9:42 PM

Egads. Book burnings? "From my cold, dead hands?' You're more of a menace to society than Stevens ever will be.

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1 reply
GUTTS 2 sjohn1210 April 21 2014 at 10:05 PM

YES lets do the book burning

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jrb359 April 22 2014 at 9:31 AM

Why is he concerned only about the school shootings? Everyday someone in the inner cities dies due to the drug gangs. You don't have to change the Constitution to support the Progressive agenda. Just start cracking down on the biggest offenders-the drug gangs!

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1 reply
Randy jrb359 April 22 2014 at 10:48 AM

Yep.... and the bribable Obama appointed AG wants to turn the drug dealers and addicts already in prison loose on the public... along with the Obama appointed Homeland Security secretary who wants to stop deporting criminal illegal aliens - because its "not fair" to send them back to the country they slithered into the USA from.

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