For Release: Thursday, August 2, 2001
WASHINGTON, DC – The Violence Policy Center (VPC) today filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for all documents related to the Department’s 180-degree shift in its position on the Second Amendment. The FOIA request seeks to shed light on how this extreme shift in which DOJ now states that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms came about. This radical change in policy was detailed in a May letter from Attorney General John Ashcroft to the National Rifle Association (NRA). Ashcroft’s letter breaks with more than 65 years of DOJ policy and legal analysis. The FOIA request comes one week after the VPC released Shot Full of Holes: Deconstructing John Ashcroft’s Second Amendment. The 38-page analysis exposes Ashcroft’s Second Amendment letter as a shoddy piece of legal and historical research that fails to support its radical “individual rights” conclusion.
VPC Litigation Director and Legislative Counsel Mathew Nosanchuk states, “Having exposed John Ashcroft as a Second Amendment wolf in sheep’s clothing, we are now filing a FOIA request so that the American people can fully understand how this 180-degree shift in Justice Department policy on the Second Amendment came about. So far, it appears that gun policy from rewriting the legal history of the Second Amendment to dismantling the Brady Law is taking place in John Ashcroft’s political star chamber, where access is denied to all but a handful of political appointees and the NRA.”
Criminal defendants are already using the Ashcroft letter to challenge their indictments and convictions, arguing that it shows Justice Department support for an individual right to bear arms. Recently, the defendant in United States v. Emerson sought to file the Ashcroft letter as supplemental authority, because it baldly conflicts with DOJ’s brief in the case.
The VPC is also asking DOJ to detail what they have told their U.S. Attorneys regarding the new Second Amendment policy.
Last week law professors David Yassky of Brooklyn Law School and Carl T. Bogus of Roger Williams Law School filed a motion to have Shot Full of Holes considered as supplemental authority in the Emerson case. The long-awaited Emerson decision may have a significant impact on future interpretation of the Second Amendment and the constitutionality of federal gun laws.