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Ashcroft's gun views take heat in court case

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department plans to fight an attempt by a gun control group to introduce a document critical of Attorney General John Ashcroft's views on the Second Amendment into a court case in Texas.

The Violence Policy Center produced the document, "Shot Full of Holes," in response to a letter Ashcroft sent in May to the National Rifle Association, which has drawn heavy fire from gun control advocates.

In his letter to the NRA, Ashcroft said he believes the Second Amendment "unequivocally" protects the right of individuals to keep and bear firearms.

Critics maintain the amendment only guarantees states a collective right to maintain militias and doesn't apply to individuals.

According to an introduction to the VPC document, "the Ashcroft letter collapses of its own weight under thorough analysis."

Read the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights  

In late July, law professors David Yassky of Brooklyn Law School and Carl T. Bogus of Roger Williams Law School filed a motion to have the document considered as "supplemental authority" in the case of U.S. v. Emerson, now before a federal appeals court in Texas.

Timothy Emerson was accused of displaying a gun in the presence of his child and estranged wife, who had filed a restraining order against him. A federal statute forbids possession of a weapon by someone under a restraining order.

A lower court dismissed the charges, but the case was appealed.

On Tuesday the Justice Department filed court papers formally opposing the VPC document's introduction, which a department official said "was sufficiently unusual and improper to warrant a formal written opposition on procedural grounds."

"This amounts to a non-party [to the case] filing an unauthorized supplemental brief after the case has already submitted for a decision," the official said, referring to the document as "a long dissertation on why they think we are wrong" and a "so-called study."

Gun control critics see the Emerson case as a test of how Ashcroft's own views on individual gun rights might influence the Justice Department's attitude toward prosecuting gun law violations.

Under the Clinton administration the Justice Department had argued that Emerson had to prove "a reasonable relationship" between possession of a gun and "preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia" before he could raise the Second Amendment as a defense in his case.

The Bush administration's Justice Department insists it has not changed its position on the Emerson case.

"The attorney general believes there's an individual right to own a gun, but there can also be restrictions. They are not mutually exclusive," said Mindy Tucker, his spokeswoman, after gun control groups raised concerns in July.

-- CNN Justice Department Producer Terry Frieden contributed to this report.


• U.S. Department of Justice
• Bill of Rights
• U.S. Constitution

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