- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2001

The Justice Department yesterday said it is drafting a legal opinion to echo the personal sentiments of Attorney General John Ashcroft, who believes that all law-abiding citizens have the right to keep and bear firearms.
The still-pending opinion by the department's Office of Legal Counsel will reverse a position taken by the Clinton administration, which said the Second Amendment did not guarantee an individual the personal constitutional right to own or use a gun.
In May, Mr. Ashcroft wrote a letter to the National Rifle Association saying the Justice Department had taken the position that the Second Amendment "protects the private ownership of firearms for lawful purposes."
In the letter, which inflamed liberals and anti-gun lobbies, he argued that "the text and the original intent" of the amendment "clearly protects the right of individuals to keep and bear firearms" and that early Supreme Court decisions "routinely" affirmed that position.
The Clinton Justice Department, under Attorney General Janet Reno, maintained that the Second Amendment guaranteed only the "collective" right of the states to maintain militias. It argued in a 1994 court case involving a Texas man, which later was dismissed, that the amendment "does not extend an individual right to keep and bear arms."
"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," Mr. Ashcroft said in the May 17 letter to NRA Executive Director James Jay Baker.
"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," he said. "That responsibility applies to all parts of the Constitution, including the Second Amendment."
Mr. Ashcroft wrote the letter in response to questions from the NRA about his and the Justice Department's views on the Second Amendment. The NRA, which supported President Bush in the 2000 election and spent more than $1 million on behalf of his campaign, has asked every attorney general for his or her view on the amendment.
Last month, Mr. Ashcroft also announced plans to reduce the time the FBI and other government agencies can maintain instant background check records for gun purchasers — cutting the period from 180 to 90 days, with the intention of ultimately reducing it to a single day.
"We believe we can have that kind of accurate auditing in a very quick time frame," Mr. Ashcroft said. "The intent of the law is to protect the privacy of legitimate gun purchasers" and to audit gun-purchase records to check for fraud and abuse.
Meanwhile, Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, plans to reoffer an amendment to a pending appropriations bill he withdrew Tuesday night during a committee hearing that calls for the Justice Department to keep the background check records for at least 90 days — and up to 180 days if necessary.

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