July 20, 2001: The Voice of the Times on Second Amendment rights:

Posted: Monday, July 23, 2001

The usual Chicken Littles are all in a dither over U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft's assertion that he ''unequivocally'' believes that the Second Amendment of the Constitution guarantees individuals the right to keep and bear arms.

''While some have argued that the Second Amendment guarantees only a collective' right of the states to maintain militias, I believe the amendment's plain meaning and original intent prove otherwise,'' Ashcroft wrote in a letter to the National Rifle Association.

That kind of thinking, of course, has stirred gun confiscationists (let's call them what they are) into a froth. They have organized an e-mail and write-in campaign aimed at making Ashcroft mend his ways.

They claim, and some liberals scholars in the recent past have asserted, that the Second Amendment protects a ''collective'' right. They will tell you with straight faces that the right to keep and bear arms belongs to the state -- making the Second Amendment the only one in the Bill of Rights that does not pertain to an individual right.

Fortunately for this nation, conservative scholars, joined by increasing numbers of their liberal, but intellectually honest, peers, recently have argued that the Founding Fathers and earlier court decisions acknowledged that the Second Amendment clearly refers to an individual right.

Ashcroft's assertion is a breath of fresh air after a Clinton administration minion, Assistant U.S. Attorney William B. Mateja, set out the government's position on firearms in a case involving Dr. Timothy Joe Emerson of Texas.

Federal law since 1994 has prohibited people under a restraining order from possessing firearms, even if there is no threat of violence. Emerson, involved in a divorce and the subject of a restraining order, was arrested for possessing a firearm. He claimed his Second, Fifth and 10th Amendment rights were violated. A federal judge agreed.

Federal prosecutors appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, where Mateja solemnly told the judges -- to their apparent astonishment -- that the government's stance on the Second Amendment was that it guaranteed only the National Guard's right to have guns. Further, he said, the Clinton Administration believed it had the right to seize guns from the public.

Ashcroft rightly has set out to correct that kind of Justice Department idiocy that has prevailed for the past three decades.

The attorney general is on the right track and should be applauded by all Americans.

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