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Attorney General Ashcroft & The Second Amendment

Thursday, July 1, 2004

by Stephen P. Halbrook

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects an individual right to keep and bear arms, explained U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, by letter dated May 17, 2001, to James Jay Baker, Executive Director of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action. The Violence Policy Center, a lobbying organization which seeks to ban guns, has responded with a superficial attack entitled Shot Full of Holes: Deconstructing John Ashcroft's Second Amendment.

Click above to see and read General Ashcroft's Letter.

The VPC document combines flawed historical interpretation with hysteria, such as that Ashcroft's views would protect "armed career criminals" in their deadly pursuits. While the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure and other Bill of Rights guarantees protect even criminals, no one disputes that such criminals have no right to keep and bear arms. Indeed, the Ashcroft Justice Department has launched a vigorous campaign -- absent in the Reno Department -- against felons who possess firearms.

On assuming office, Attorney General Ashcroft took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, which includes the Second Amendment. From the standpoint of legal ethics, it is admirable when prosecuting authorities candidly concede that they or their predecessors took an erroneous position regarding the law, for their duty is to see that justice is done, not to win cases at any price. Yet VPC has filed an ethics complaint against Ashcroft for expressing in good faith (and with persuasive documentation) an opinion about a provision of the Bill of Rights.


VPC purports to refute Ashcroft's two-page letter on the Second Amendment, but VPC's silence on the Constitution's text is deafening. The Second Amendment provides: "A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." This "right of the people" is not limited, as VPC claims, to actual service in a state military force. The Framers knew how to limit a right to actual service -- the Fifth Amendment provides for indictment by grand jury "except in cases arising . . . in the militia, when in actual service . . . ."

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.