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Bill Press is a syndicated columnist, CNN political commentator and author of the newly-published book Spin This!

Bill Press: Ashcroft delivers for the NRA

By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services

WASHINGTON (Tribune Media Services) -- If you thought we still live in a democracy, forget it. Today, only one man makes the rules: dictator John Ashcroft -- anointed and supported by King George.

In a shocking display of executive arrogance this week, Ashcroft single-handedly reversed 29 years of federal policy on guns. There were no hearings in Congress. No bill passed by the House or Senate. No vote of the people. Ashcroft didn't bother with the democratic process. He simply announced that federal policy on guns had changed.

Since 1973, starting with President Nixon, the government's official position has been that the Second Amendment protects ownership of guns by state militias, and not unlimited ownership by individuals. Suddenly, that's no longer the case. In Supreme Court papers filed on behalf of Ashcroft by Solicitor General Ted Olson, the government said it has changed its mind.

"In its (earlier) brief to the court of appeals," Olson wrote, "the government argued that the Second Amendment protects only such acts of firearm possession as are reasonably related to the preservation or efficiency of the militia." Now, Olson told the justices, that's no longer operable. "The current position of the United States, however, is that the Second Amendment more broadly protects the rights of individuals, including persons who are not members of any militia or engaged in active military service or training, to possess and bear their own firearms."

Amazing! Twenty-nine years of going one way on guns, and one man decides it's time to make a U-turn. The fact is, Ashcroft is wrong on both policy and process.

The wording of the Second Amendment is clear: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." You'd have to reinvent the English language to make that sentences apply to individuals. As the Supreme Court decreed in 1939, its last ruling on the issue, the Constitution clearly protects only gun ownership that bears "some reasonable relationship to the preservation of efficiency of a well-regulated militia."

Even if Ashcroft disagrees with official policy on guns, it's not in his power to change it. Maybe he should reread the entire Constitution. Especially that part about the separation of powers. It's the Congress' job to make the laws and the Supreme Court's to interpret them. It's the Executive Branch's job to enforce the laws, not to alter them unilaterally. If Janet Reno had tried to dictate such a change in policy -- on any issue -- conservatives would have accused her of abusing her powers and violating the Constitution. And they'd have been right.

No matter how outrageous, Ashcroft's action came as no surprise. He was merely fulfilling a pledge he made to the National Rifle Association last year. In a letter read aloud at the 2001 convention of the NRA in Kansas City, Ashcroft wrote: "Let me state unequivocally my view that the text and the original intent of the Second Amendment clearly protect the right of individuals to keep and bear firearms."

Promise made, promise delivered. In return, a grateful NRA put Ashcroft on the cover of its magazine, calling him "a breath of fresh air to freedom-loving gun owners."

Ashcroft's reversal on gun ownership is not the first time he's done the NRA's bidding. After September 11, the Justice Department rounded up over 1,200 men suspected of ties to terrorist organizations. The FBI went to work, making background checks -- with one exception. By edict of the attorney general, the FBI was prohibited from looking into records of gun ownership. Even though current law dictates holding receipts of gun purchases for 90 days, Ashcroft agreed with NRA policy that records should be destroyed after 24 hours. Not even the war on terror could shake Ashcroft's allegiance to the NRA.

And the scary part is, guns are only the beginning. As U.S. senator, Ashcroft not only fought for individual gun ownership, he also authored seven constitutional amendments: to ban abortions, prohibit flag-burning, permit a line-item veto, require a balanced budget, require a super-majority for tax increases, establish term limits for federal elected officials -- and, of course, to make it easier to amend the Constitution. Count on him to pursue the same agenda at the Department of Justice.

He's only been in office 16 months, but it's already clear: John Ashcroft is the most dangerous man at Justice since J. Edgar Hoover.




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