Federal Court Upholds California Assault Weapons Ban, Strongly Rebuts Ashcroft Justice Department View That Second Amendment Guarantees an Individual Right to Keep and Bear Arms 

For Release:  Thursday, December 5, 2002

Washington, DC – In response to today’s 72-page decision in Silveira v. Lockyer by the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals unanimously upholding California’s strict assault weapons ban and strongly rebutting the position embraced by Attorney General John Ashcroft that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms, Violence Policy Center Litigation Director and Legislative Counsel Matt Nosanchuk stated the following:

Today’s 72-page decision by the Ninth Circuit affirms the constitutionality of our nation’s toughest law banning assault weapons. With the federal assault weapons ban scheduled to sunset next Congress, the California law stands as one example of how to more effectively restrict these weapons of war. It is important to remember that Attorney General John Ashcroft testified before Congress that he, like President Bush, supports banning assault weapons. If this ruling is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Attorney General Ashcroft, if asked, will be expected to stand by his sworn word.

At the same time, the decision contains a comprehensive rebuttal to the claims made in October 2001 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in U.S. v Emerson that the Second Amendment guarantees an expansive individual right to keep and bear arms. This interpretation has been embraced by Attorney General Ashcroft. Citing cutting-edge scholarship such as the 2000 Chicago Kent Law Review Symposium on the Second Amendment: Fresh Looks, the Silveira decision details the history and context of the Second Amendment, as well as existing legal precedent, and makes clear that the Second Amendment does not guarantee an individual right to keep and bear arms. Individual rights advocates have waved the Emerson decision like a battle flag. As seen today, all they have done is awaken a sleeping giant of clear legal thinking and sound historical analysis that finds that the Second Amendment does not guarantee an individual right to own a gun. As the court states in Silveira: “The amendment protects the people’s right to maintain an effective state militia, and does not establish an individual right to own or possess firearms for personal or other use.”




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