For Release: Monday, June 10, 2002
Today the Supreme Court denied review in two cases in which criminal defendants had asked the high court to strike down federal gun laws on Second Amendment grounds. In briefs filed in Emerson v. United States and Haney v. United States, the Ashcroft Justice Department announced a 180-degree shift in the Department’s interpretation of the Second Amendment, arguing for an expansive individual rights interpretation of the Amendment. At the same time, the Justice Department asked the Court to reject the defendants’ petitions for review. In response to the Supreme Court’s action today, Mathew Nosanchuk, the Violence Policy Center’s litigation director and legislative counsel, issued the following statement:
“Today’s Supreme Court action is a victory for public safety and security and a defeat for the National Rifle Association and gun criminals, who have been chomping at the bit for the Supreme Court to overrule its own precedent on the Second Amendment. By declining to hear the Emerson and Haney cases, the Supreme Court as it has done repeatedly for decades once again refused to reopen the question of whether the Second Amendment protects an expansive individual right to keep and bear arms that is unrelated in any way to service in the well regulated militia’ cited in the Second Amendment. In its unanimous 1939 decision in United States v. Miller, the Court held unambiguously that the obvious purpose’ of the Second Amendment was to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness’ of the militia, and [i]t must be interpreted and applied with that end in view.’
“Today’s action by the Supreme Court reaffirms, the Ashcroft Justice Department’s policy shift notwithstanding, that the Miller decision remains the law of the land and it continues to be followed in the lower courts. The Ashcroft Justice Department completely ignored Miller in its Supreme Court briefs, and the NRA has argued that Miller means something other than what it says. If the lower courts have been misreading Miller for 63 years as the NRA and pro-gun advocates believe the Supreme Court has had ample opportunity to correct the error. Once again, it has declined to do so.
“Thankfully, the Justices do not share Attorney General John Ashcroft’s enthusiasm for reinterpreting the Second Amendment. Unfortunately, criminal defendants and the gun lobby can be expected to rely on the non-binding and ill-advised statements contained in the Ashcroft Justice Department’s Emerson and Haney briefs in their efforts to overturn our nation’s gun laws.”