- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2000

"[T]here should be no doubt that the Second Amendment does not grant a right to bear arms apart from militia service."

Clinton-Gore Justice Department, Jan. 27, 2000

To hear Vice President Gore describe it, hunters haven't had such a friend in the White House since Teddy Roosevelt called the place home. Mr. Gore has been wearing his enthusiasm for the sporting life like a blaze-orange vest ever since he discovered that real live people out there in fly-over country including potential supporters in key Midwestern states happen to enjoy it themselves. What he has neglected to mention is that the administration of which he is a part is now in court trying to undermine Second Amendment rights that make hunting or, more seriously, self-defense, possible.

At issue is a court case now before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It started with allegations that a West Texas doctor had threatened the man with whom his wife was said to be having an affair. She had filed for divorce from the doctor, and a state judge issued a temporary restraining order after she complained about the reported threat. The court itself made no findings as to the guilt or innocence of the doctor, Timothy Joe Emerson. Under a 1994 federal law, it is illegal to have a firearm while under a restraining order. When Mrs. Emerson subsequently accused him of threatening her and their child with his gun (a jury of nine women and two men later found him not guilty), Mr. Emerson was indicted for violating the 1994 law.

Mr. Emerson filed suit in federal court partly on grounds that the law violated his Second Amendment rights. To the surprise of the Justice Department, but not perhaps to legal scholars, the judge sided with Mr. Emerson. Historical examination of the Second Amendment as well as examination of its text, Federal District Judge Sam Cummings wrote, "bears proof that the right to bear arms has consistently been, and should still be, construed as an individual right."

The Justice Department appealed the ruling to the 5th Circuit. In a brief to the appeals court using the quote above, Justice defended its interpretation. In an Aug. 20 letter, U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman confirmed that in oral arguments before the appeals court, counsel for the United States "did indeed take the position that the Second Amendment does not extend an individual right to keep and bear arms."

In other words, individuals can keep and bear arms because government officials kindly permit them to do so. For now. But they have no constitutional right to do so. Mr. Gore is free to dispute the department's interpretation. Until he does so, however, gun owners should assume he agrees with it his professed allegiance to hunters notwithstanding.

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