For Release: Thursday, May 16, 2002
Washington, DC – One week after the Ashcroft Justice Department formally adopted the National Rifle Association (NRA) view that the Second Amendment guarantees a broad individual right to keep and bear arms, the defense team for accused American Taliban terrorist John Walker Lindh has used the government’s arguments made to the U.S. Supreme Court to urge dismissal of the gun charge filed against him.
The Justice Department position, announced last week in briefs filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, is contrary to both Supreme Court precedent and long-standing and consistent bipartisan Justice Department policy that the Second Amendment protects a militia-based not an expansive individual right to bear arms.
VPC Litigation Director and Legislative Counsel Mathew Nosanchuk states, “We warned of this inevitable result and it has not taken long for our fears to come true. The Ashcroft Justice Department has betrayed its law enforcement responsibilities by strengthening the legal position of those charged with committing serious crimes. These are the real-life consequences of a cynical, politically motivated action. Now defendants charged with a gun crime will argue the NRA-endorsed, Ashcroft- implemented, American Taliban defense. The tough-on-crime rhetoric of President Bush, Attorney General Ashcroft, and the NRA means little now that they have given accused gun criminals a new Justice Department-endorsed defense.”
The Violence Policy Center warned of the clear threat to public health and safety posed by the Justice Department shift in a May 2 letter sent to Solicitor General Ted Olson by former Deputy Solicitor General Andrew Frey on behalf of the VPC before the briefs were filed. The letter stated: “Prosecuting gun crimes would also be made more difficult in the wake of a policy change by the government….A person accused of violating one or more of these statutes will have the opportunity to make the argument that he was merely exercising his Second Amendment right at the time of his arrest, and that any statute purporting to impose criminal penalties for that conduct is unconstitutional….The ability of the United States to perform its task of defending the laws enacted by the Congress will be needlessly, and perhaps seriously, compromised by a filing of the sort we here urge you to avoid.”