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Gun rights to return to Supreme Court's agenda

| Sunday, April 13, 2014, 4:45 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The push and pull over the Second Amendment right to bear arms is heating up again, thanks in part to a former Supreme Court justice's new book.

On Friday, the high court will consider whether to hear a challenge to a New Jersey law restricting the right to carry guns in public. If the court grants the petition, it would be the most important gun control case since the justices upheld the right to keep handguns at home for self-defense in 2008.

While the justices ponder what the Constitution's framers meant with the words “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,” former Justice John Paul Stevens suggests it be rewritten.

In his new book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution,” Stevens, 93, advocates adding the words “when serving in the militia” to reduce the number of firearms-related deaths — about 88 per day — that occur in the nation.

Stevens was on the losing side of the court's 5-4 ruling in 2008 that established the right to keep handguns at home for self-defense. Two years later, he was again in the minority when the court ruled that Chicago could not prohibit private citizens from owning handguns.

“Emotional claims that the right to possess deadly weapons is so important that it is protected by the federal Constitution distort intelligent debate about the wisdom of particular aspects of proposed legislation designed to minimize the slaughter caused by the prevalence of guns in private hands,” Stevens writes. “Those emotional arguments would be nullified by the adoption of my proposed amendment. The amendment certainly would not silence the powerful voice of the gun lobby; it would merely eliminate its ability to advance one mistaken argument.”

The “gun lobby” seeks to move in the opposite direction. Despite losses at federal district and appeals courts, groups including the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners Foundation back the effort by New Jersey gun owners to legalize gun possession outside the home.

“The Second Amendment guarantees the right to carry weapons for the purpose of self-defense — not just for self-defense within the home, but for self-defense, period,” the NRA argues in its brief to the high court.

New Jersey law enforcement groups defend the state's requirement that citizens prove a “justifiable need” to carry handguns outside the home, whether openly or concealed from view. In their brief, they claim the law “qualifies as a presumptively lawful, longstanding regulation that does not burden conduct within the scope of the Second Amendment's guarantee.”

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