For Release: Thursday, January 31, 2002
Study Details Attorney General’s Attacks on Brady Law, Refusal to Allow Law Enforcement Access to Gun Sale Records for the War on Terror, and Promotion of An Individual Right to Keep and Bear Arms
WASHINGTON, DC – A new report from the Violence Policy Center (VPC), John Ashcroft: Year One, released for the one-year anniversary of John Ashcroft’s appointment as Attorney General, confirms what the VPC warned during debate over his nomination: The Justice Department under John Ashcroft has become an aggressive gun-lobby policy machine. The actions of the Attorney General on whose behalf the National Rifle Association (NRA) spent $374,137 during his failed 2000 Senate reelection bid have undermined the Brady Law, denied law enforcement personnel access to databases to help fight terrorism, and undermined gun prosecutions. Pro-gun policy shifts detailed in the report include:
The Gun Lobby Exception to the War on Terror: The Justice Department refused to allow the FBI access to the audit log of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) the federal system overseen by the FBI which is utilized by gun dealers to conduct background checks under the Brady Law to determine whether suspected terrorists had purchased guns.
Undermining the Effectiveness of the NICS: Attorney General Ashcroft unlawfully suspended a Clinton Administration rule that would have permitted the FBI to keep records of approved gun sales for 90 days so that the system could be audited to uncover fraudulent gun purchases and abuses of the system. He then proposed a new rule requiring virtually instant destruction of the records.
Undercutting Enforcement of Gun Laws by Misinterpreting the Constitution: In May 2000, Attorney General Ashcroft sent a letter on Department stationery to the NRA’s chief lobbyist detailing his belief in an individual right to keep and bear arms. The letter flatly contradicts Supreme Court precedent and more than 65 years of Justice Department policy and was filed in opposition to the Department’s position in U.S. v. Emerson. It is expected that other gun defendants will follow this lead. In addition, a memo was later issued from Washington directing all 93 U.S. Attorney’s offices to submit any cases dealing with the Second Amendment to Justice Department headquarters for review.
In January 2001, the VPC released John Ashcroft: The Wrong Choice To Enforce America’s Gun Laws and was the first gun control organization to oppose his nomination. Soon after, the VPC launched ashcroftgunwatch.org, the leading source of information on the Attorney General’s pro-gun activities. Many of the concerns the VPC voiced over the Ashcroft nomination have come to fruition.
“At his confirmation hearing, Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would not let his personal views on guns stand in the way of carrying out the responsibilities of his position,” VPC Litigation Director and Legislative Counsel Mathew Nosanchuk stated. “Many Senators took him at his word. Now we know that the opposite is true: the Attorney General will not allow the responsibilities of his position to interfere with his efforts to advance the special interests of the gun lobby.”