A weapon modified to meeting Connecticut's gun law. It can only use less powerful rimfire ammo,
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said Wednesday he will not pursue a federal ban on assault weapons via an unprecedented U.S. constitutional convention, an offbeat idea he floated a day earlier without fully considering the potential risks.

His proposal reflected frustration at the inability of Congress to follow Connecticut’s lead and restrict the availability of high-powered, military-style firearms, even after a fresh round of mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio.

“Connecticut can be one of the first states to push for a constitutional assault weapons ban but we need other states to join with us,” Ritter said in a press release a day ago. “That is why I have asked my staff to investigate the process for amending the U.S. Constitution. This is a national crisis that demands action.”

The investigation is now over.

And please don’t bring it up again, at least not to Ritter.

“You will not be hearing me mention it again,” Ritter said.

Ritter briefly saw a path around Congressional inaction in Article V of the Constitution, which calls for a constitutional convention if two-thirds of state legislatures ask for one, presumably on the same topic.

But since one never has been called, there is no guarantee that a convention could not reconsider any portion of the Constitution. Historically, that prospect has concerned, if not terrified, scholars and others on the political left and right.

“Other than the convention that drafted our Constitution, there has never been a constitutional convention in the nation’s history,” Common Cause said in a memo published two years ago and updated in March. “There is nothing stopping a new convention from rolling back our constitutional rights and civil liberties. Our right to vote, our right to free speech, our reproductive rights, our citizenship rules, and more could all be up for grabs.”

Some conservatives have pushed for a convention to consider a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But in 2012, the conservative Heritage Foundation counseled caution in seeking a “BBA,” as it referred to the amendment, saying “the approach is fraught with many unknowns.”

“Many conservatives worry that it might be able to produce only a watered-down BBA, one more likely to result in massive tax hikes rather than meaningful spending cuts. Others worry that it might stampede out of control—a ‘runaway convention’ that wreaks all sorts of constitutional changes ranging far beyond the notion of balancing the budget,” the foundation wrote. “A worst-case scenario, they fear, is that liberals might ‘hijack’ a convention.”

The other method of amending the Constitution is the one that has been used 27 times since 1789: An amendment must be endorsed by a two-thirds vote of Congress, then ratified by three fourths of the states.

The 27th Amendment, ratified in 1992, delayed the implementation of congressional raises approved by Congress until after the next election. In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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13 Comments

  1. If Congress wanted to act they could. There are numerous examples of laws that were written within days of an event or a judicial act that changed our laws. Simply, the drama and rhetoric involved precludes any action. We can’t whine, call each other names, complain about the President or the other side of the aisle if the issue is resolved. Who would take credit? Our two party system gets in the way yet again…

  2. The thing is this: You call for a constitutional convention, and get one, you have absolutely no idea what the results can be, because anything can be on the agenda.

    1. Alison, while a lot OpEds suggest this to be the case, it isn’t true. What Maj Leader Ritter was attempting was to call a limited convention on gun safety. Which is perfectly allowable under Article V of the US Constitution. The majority if not all the constitutional scholars agree on this. If a convention free for all were to happen you need 34 states to all agree on that and submit resolutions calling for a free for all. Otherwise all convention calls are limited to the topic which they are called for. Check out the research on limiting the convention; https://wolf-pac.com/about/resources/. Ritter seems to have been strong armed in abandoning a tactic that would have put a lot of pressure on Congress to act, instead of just them sending thoughts and prayers.

    2. I’m sorry Alison but, this is completely inaccurate and has no basis in reality. We have held more literally hundreds of conventions to amend state constitutions, to elect presidential and legislative candidates… None of them have “run away” to propose something not on the agreed agenda. And that’s not to mention the fact that whatever IS proposed would have to be ratified by 3/4 (or 38) states, the same as any constitutional amendment proposal made by Congress. The only difference is the proposal wouldn’t be coming from an already self-interested and gridlocked “runaway” legislative body that has repeatedly shown complete ineptitude on every from gun safety to climate change mitigation to campaign finance reform.

    3. yes and no.

      The states can put anything they like in their application in regards to the agenda but the trick is that 33 other states have to want to talk about the same thing.

      The Clerk for the House of Representatives has officially started counting applications for conventions and 49 states have asked for a convention on a variety of topics but because there is no consensus as to the agenda, a Constitutionally mandated convention has not been called.

      The whole thing is built on consensus, 34 state legislatures need to want to discuss the same topic, THEN the delegates from the 50 states have to vote in agreement on any amendment being proposed AND THEN 38 States have to agree the the proposed amendment is worthy by ratifying it, thus making it for all intents and purposes, a part of the document.

      It’s all laid out in the constitution if you would take the time to read it.

  3. There’s a lot of misinformation here but probably the largest part of it is the idea that a convention can ‘runaway’ and address issues not within the scope of their original mandate. It’s just straight up untrue. Not only does all peer-reviewed research (from orgs like the DOJ and ABA) find the opposite, that a convention can and must be limited to a single topic, but there are also checks on that process in place from delegate selection and the ability for states to rescind their delegates if not properly representing them,to Congress setting the rules.

    In reality, these calls for article V conventions never actually get to the point of convention in any case. Historically, whenever a single issue campaign (like gun-control) gets close to the 34 required states to call for convention, Congress likes to step in and draft and propose the amendment themselves so they can control the specific language of it. This was the case with the 17th amendment, which brought us the direct election of U.S. Senators, and it would never have been proposed by congress as it was if there was not a strong campaign from regular people building pressure on congress, forcing them to respond. The same is true today. However, unfortunately, some people and groups out there would rather spread misinformation to scare people away from the only viable path to change. Probably because they’re more interested in protecting their pocketbook than our lives.

    1. Hi Mike, we welcome your comments but please note that our guidelines require that comments be limited to 1,000 characters. We will not be able to approve comments that exceed that limit going forward.

  4. I see Common Cause’s quotes all over these stories, but they never suggest a real plan for any of this action. Is their plan “wait for Congress to pass gun control laws?” If the Republicans paid no price for filibustering the bill after 20 first-graders were shot, and Dems were cowed away from seriously addressing it again, then we’re never going to get Congressional action. The Senate is actually trending slightly Redder with the coming demographic shifts, because the small states will continue to be lightly-populated and very Red, as a backlash to the Blue states, who will contain well more than half the country’s population but have very limited Senate power. So believing that Congress is the solution statutorily (i.e., there will be 60 votes for gun control, or Dems will nuke the filibuster and get 51 votes) is absurd for the foreseeable future. And believing Congress will do this by AMENDMENT (67 Senate votes and 290 House votes for gun control) is completely preposterous. Meanwhile people are being slaughtered every day.

    The problem is that the corruption that Common Cause is ostensibly fighting is being enabled by exactly the people they are counting on to fix the problem. Even if it were the case that an Article V Convention were risky, and the peer-reviewed studies indicate that it IS safe and can be limited to a single issue, they provide no other path anyway. At least Matt Ritter is trying to solve a problem that has no other solution, because Washington is simply too corrupt to do anything about it without massive state pressure. The only person in this story that looks good is Ritter.

    The solution to gun violence is the solution to nearly every problem. Campaign finance reform. The gigantic majority of the country wants certain gun safety reforms. We don’t have it because the NRA (the gun industry) owns half of Washington. Full Stop. If they’re allowed to bribe lawmakers to vote no on every reform, no matter what, then it doesn’t matter what any other government body (or the electorate) wants or does. And, ironically, since Congress is the problem THERE too, the solution to getting campaign finance reform is ALSO to go through the states. So Common Cause–give us a plan or step aside.

    1. Hi Steven, we welcome your comments but please note that our guidelines require that comments be limited to 1,000 characters. We will not be able to approve comments that exceed that limit going forward.

  5. It’s unfortunate they bullied a legislator into not using a tool in the Constitution we were meant to use, a convention as authorized by Article V.

    The subject matter is determined at the time the convention is called. It is a legislative norm that the state will explain in it’s convention call what it is they want to discuss. Only once 34 states call for a convention on the same topic, Congress is Constitutionally mandated to call a convention that has one and only one power: to propose amendments.

    Once proposed, it would only take 13 states to vote no and squash anything too far right or left.

    The Clerk for the U.S. House of Rep Congress is even officially counting applications and has 150 applications (and counting) on record, from 49 states (only Hawaii has not applied for a convention). The reason the convention hasn’t been called is because the process requires consensus about the topics to be discussed.

    Thus far, no single topic has 34 states

    None of us will get 100% of what we want but we will get something that will improve the accountability of our elected officials.

    1. Hi kap0w, we welcome your comments but please note that our guidelines require that comments be limited to 1,000 characters. We will not be able to approve comments that exceed that limit going forward.

  6. Congress is corrupted by all the special interest gun money https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8720-how-many-must-die-for-change-corrupt-campaign-finance-laws-pave-way-for-only-thoughts-and-prayers. They cant and or wont act without tremendous pressure from the states. Maj Leader Ritter was using a tactic to push Congress to act by calling for limited convention under article V. There is no doubt we have the right to do this, the only doubt is if we will have one. Historically Congress has been moved into action when the convention calls are close to the requiset 2/3 states. Ritter’s action would have helped the Nation achieve important gun safety reforms, instead he just pushed us further back, or rather who ever hold political influence over him did, the only two culprits I can think of are the NRA or Common Cause. I have my doubts about the former.

  7. So all we’re talking about is the mode of proposal of a Constitutional Amendment (Congress has proposed 11,000, while 27 have been successfully ratified). Our founders knew it was critical that this power did not solely fall under Congress’ power, because it was possible Congress itself could become the problem, as it has. It’s very unfortunate that Common Cause continues to refuse to acknowledge what all the peer-reviewed constitutional research (reports by the Congressional Research Service, U.S. Justice Department, American Bar Association, Harvard School of Law and U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee) have found: that an Article V Convention would be necessarily be limited to a single issue, and those limitations would be enforced by Supreme Court challenges, the Delegates’ fulfilling their oaths or being replaced, the Congress’ counting applications and setting the rules of the Convention, and the incredibly high bar of State ratification (which is required by either mode of proposal). You can find all that research here: Wolf-PAC.com/resources

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