Magazine article Insight on the News

Ashcroft Seconds

Magazine article Insight on the News

Ashcroft Seconds

Article excerpt

The U.S. attorney general has affirmed the right of private citizens to own firearms, reversing the Clinton policy on the Second Amendment.

In a decision that has inflamed liberals and antigun advocates, Attorney General John Ashcroft has reversed a Clinton-administration policy on the Second Amendment, saying the Justice Department has reaffirmed "a long-held opinion" that the amendment "protects the private ownership of firearms for lawful purposes."

The Clinton Justice Department maintained that the Second Amendment guaranteed only the "collective" right of the states to maintain militias. Solicitor General Seth Waxman, a Clinton appointee, even argued that the amendment "does not extend an individual right to keep and bear arms." A federal judge later disagreed with the government's arguments and dismissed the case.

"As I was reminded during my confirmation hearing, some hold a different view and would, in effect, read the Second Amendment out of the Constitution," Ashcroft wrote in a letter to James Jay Baker, executive director of the National Rifle Association (NRA). "I must respectfully disagree with this view, for when I was sworn in as attorney general of the United States, I took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. That responsibility applies to all parts of the Constitution, including the Second Amendment."

In the letter, Ashcroft argued that "the text and the original intent of the Second Amendment clearly protects the right of individuals to keep and bear firearms" and that early Supreme Court decisions "routinely" reaffirmed that position.

Mark Levin, chief of staff to former attorney general Edwin Meese III, praised Ashcroft's decision, noting that the Bill of Rights protects "the liberty of individuals and groups of individuals against the power of the central government." Said Levin, "The right to bear arms is no less of a right than the right of free speech. The problem with liberals is that they wish to pick and choose between individual liberties and scuttle those with which they don't agree. John Ashcroft's decision is in the finest tradition of James Madison."

But a Washington gun-control group immediately questioned whether Ashcroft will enforce existing gun laws in the wake of his decision. The Violence Policy Center (VPC), another liberal group that sought to derail Ashcroft's nomination, labeled his letter as "pandering."

"NRA member Ashcroft promised at his confirmation hearing that he would defend our nation's gun laws," said VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand. "But in his letter to the NRA, the attorney general espouses a view, on official U.S. Justice Department stationery, wholly inconsistent with U. …

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