COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., February 1, 2015—Last week, Dudley Brown of the National Association for Gun Rights and Rocky Mountain Gun Owners sent out a lurid email warning readers against an Article V Convention of the States:
“The truth is, if those pushing an Article V Constitutional Convention ever succeed, ALL of our freedoms protected by the United States Constitution — including the Second Amendment — would be put on the chopping block!” – Dudley Brown
Brown is concerned about the dangers of a “runaway convention” and calls for email recipients to write or call legislators and lobby them to remove their names in support of an Article V convention. He calls such a Convention “pure snake oil” and proponents “professional “conservative” charlatans — with help from a handful of political celebrities who should know better.”
Strong words indeed. What is an Article V Convention, anyway?
It originates in Article V of the Constitution where several methods of amending the Constitution are given. The language is simple and clear:
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress;
Thus, there are four possible procedures to amend the Constitution. Either the Congress proposes an Amendment or two-thirds (currently 34) of the State legislatures do. A proposed Amendment—regardless of which source it comes from—will become part of the Constitution when 3/4 of the States approve it, whether through the Legislature or by a Convention in each state.
A Convention of the States is only the first step. All of the existing Amendments originated in Congress and were ratified by the State legislatures.
The closest ever to a Convention of the States was Direct Election of Senators. As the number of states calling for a convention approached two-thirds, Congress saw the handwriting on the wall and proposed the amendment itself.
An Article V convention would be for the limited purpose of considering an amendment or amendments specified in the call.
How would such a convention work? Since it’ never been done, there is room for speculation as to procedure. It’s here that people like Brown spread fear, uncertainty and doubt.
Constitutional scholar Robert Natelson makes four conclusions based on an examination of the historical record:
- The convention method is designed to allow the people, through the states, to propose amendments without the consent of Congress.
- The convention method is not a general constitutional convention but rather for a specific purpose.
- Because the purpose of this method is to avoid Congress, Congress have very little role in the convention process.
- Only proposals within the scope of the convention would go to the states for ratification.
Could there be a runaway convention? In a word, no.
Who thinks a convention of the states is a good idea? People who think the federal government has far overstepped its bounds and who think it’s time for the States to re-assert their constitutional role in federalism. People who think Congress will never enact term limits or a balanced budget amendment. Constitutional scholars and people like Mark Levin, who wrote The Liberty Amendments.
Who thinks a Convention of the States is a bad idea? Certainly, proponents of big government and of the authority of the federal government over the states. Congress itself is highly unlikely to support a convention which will limit their power.
That’s generally liberals and Progressives…and Dudley Brown. Strange company for a self-professed gun rights lobbyist.