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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 10, 2002

Our most treasured freedom: gun rights?

In a dismaying action that honors dogma over common sense, the Justice Department has reversed decades of official government policy on the meaning of the Second Amendment, the so-called right to bear arms.

Before Attorney General John Ashcroft, the department had agreed with the 1939 United States vs. Miller decision, which held that the Second Amendment protects only those rights that have "some reasonable relationship to the preservation of efficiency of a well-regulated militia."

"The current position of the United States, however," the department now says, "is that the Second Amendment more broadly protects the rights of individuals, including persons who are not members of any militia or engaged in active military service or training, to possess and bear their own firearms, subject to reasonable restrictions designed to prevent possession by unfit persons or to restrict the possession of types of firearms that are particularly suited to criminal misuse."

The new view is expressed in the Justice Department's briefs opposing Supreme Court review of two appeals of firearms convictions in which defendants argued that their gun possession was constitutionally protected.

The Justice Department's inclusion of this new view in these particular cases is entirely gratuitous, because the government still argues that the convictions and the laws behind them should be upheld. But the department's new assertion will aid those seeking to defeat laws designed to control the use of firearms.

Ashcroft says he supports the gun-control bills now on the books. But his view that individuals have a right to possess firearms "subject to reasonable restrictions" invites a new review of each law to test the meaning of "reasonable" in light of this "right."

Ashcroft is promoting an anachronistic dogma that has no bearing on 21st-century realities. President Bush should rein his man in.