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The 2nd Amendment is protected by 'Constitution worship'

The 2nd Amendment is protected by 'Constitution worship'
Police stand watch near the site of the fatal shootings of two television journalists in southwestern Virginia. (Jay Paul / AFP/Getty Images)

After Wednesday's fatal shootings of two Virginia television journalists, Twitter lit up with familiar suggestions that it was time to do something about gun violence. Some of the tweeters broached the possibility of the ultimate exercise in gun control. A representative tweet: "There needs to be a large, vocal, unflagging national interest group dedicated to repealing the 2nd Amendment in full."

Good luck with that.

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Repealing the 2nd Amendment would be the cleanest possible way to deal with gun violence, because it would also sweep away the Supreme Court's recent decisions defining the right to bear arms as an individual rather than a collective right.

But it's not going to happen – and not only because popular support for the idea is lacking. Repealing the 2nd Amendment would involve tampering not only with the Constitution but with the iconic Bill of Rights. The merits of gun control aside, that is seen as a taboo by many Americans on all points along the political spectrum.

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As I wrote in a column in 2007, the Bill of Rights is the special totem of what historian Michael Kammen called "Constitution worship" – even though some of its provisions are blatantly obsolete. (The 7th Amendment guarantees a jury trial in civil cases "where the value in controversy shall exceed 20 dollars." Shades of Dr. Evil's ransom demand.)

In 2006, when the Senate was considering a constitutional amendment to allow the criminalization of burning the American flag, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) revolted at the idea that the Senate would "vote to amend the Bill of Rights of our United States Constitution because ... we deem it 'necessary' in 2006."

Rather inconsistently, Leahy later steered the Senate Judiciary Committee's approval of a different change in the 1st Amendment to overrule the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. But now conservatives can pick up his mantra about not messing with the sacred 1st Amendment.

Any attempt to repeal the 2nd Amendment – no matter how "large, vocal, unflagging" it might be – will be regarded as equally sacrilegious. That's the price we pay for Constitution worship.

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Follow Michael McGough on Twitter @MichaelMcGough3

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