Printed on: April 22, 2014

Stevens: Constitution needs six changes


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 today by Little, Brown and Co.

Stevens said in an interview 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.

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