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.