Justice Dept.'s Legal Opinion on Second Amendment

Justice Department's legal opinion on Second Amendment is "politically schizophrenic," Libertarians say

WASHINGTON, DC -- The Justice Department's new legal opinion concerning the Second Amendment is "political schizophrenia at its worst," Libertarians say, because it asserts that individuals have a right to own a gun while pledging to enforce laws that infringe on that right.

"This ruling is very good news - and very bad news - for gun owners," said Libertarian Party Executive Director Steve Dasbach. "The good news is that the government finally recognizes that the Constitution protects individual Americans' right to own a gun. But the bad news is that laws that infringe on that right will still be enforced.

"It's as if the government has acknowledged that it has no right to step on your neck, while simultaneously refusing to remove its foot."

In a reversal of the federal government's longstanding legal position, the Bush administration told the Supreme Court this week it believes the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals - and not just state-sponsored militias like the National Guard - to own a gun. Filed by U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, the legal brief is designed to get the Supreme Court to weigh in on the right to bear arms for the first time since 1939.

Yet the Justice Department also says it is determined "to defend vigorously the constitutionality, under the Second Amendment, of all existing federal firearms laws."

"That's why this decision is political schizophrenia at its worst," Dasbach said. "Imagine what would happen if the government grudgingly acknowledged that the First Amendment protects an individual journalist's right to free expression, then announced it would 'defend vigorously' a law requiring reporters to pass a grammar test before publishing an article.

"Americans would rightly demand the repeal of that 'speech control' law. Now it's time to stand up for the Second Amendment in the same way. If Mr. Bush sincerely believes in an individual right to bear arms, here's how he can prove it: Call for the repeal of every federal gun control law, including:"

  • The Gun-Free School Zone Law, enacted in 1997, which bans the possession of a gun within 1,000 feet of a school.
  • "This law violates the constitutional right of every individual teacher to defend themselves and their students in the event of another Columbine-like massacre," Dasbach said. "By setting up a 1,000-foot zone in which every potential victim is unarmed and defenseless, the law is more likely to encourage another shooting spree than to prevent one."

  • The Brady Bill, which set up a federal database of law-abiding gun owners.
  • "Innocent Americans are not forced to submit to a criminal background check and put into a government dossier because they exercised their First Amendment right to free speech or their Fourth Amendment right not to be searched illegally," Dasbach said. "It's time to stop treating individual Americans who want to buy guns as criminal suspects, and repeal the Brady Bill."

  • The "Lautenberg Law," which strips Second Amendment rights from anyone convicted, even years ago, on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.
  • "Individuals don't retroactively lose their First Amendment rights because they were convicted of libel or slander 10 years ago," Dasbach said. "So there's no justification for violating an individual's Second Amendment right because of a 10-year-old domestic violence conviction either."

    The fact is that regardless of the government's newfound respect for the Second Amendment, Americans will not have the freedom to exercise those rights as long as gun control laws remain on the books, Dasbach said.

    "Perhaps a little public outrage, combined with a healthy dose of the Constitution, can cure the Bush administration's political schizophrenia on the gun issue," he said.

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    For release: May 9, 2002

    For additional information:
    George Getz, Press Secretary
    Phone: (202) 333-0008 Ext. 222
    E-Mail: [email protected]

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