For Release: Tuesday, January 9, 2001
WASHINGTON, DC The Violence Policy Center (VPC), a national organization working to reduce gun death and injury in America, today released John Ashcroft: The Wrong Choice to Enforce America’s Gun Laws, an eight-page report detailing U.S. Attorney General-Designate John Ashcroft’s record on guns. The report contains seven sections detailing Ashcroft’s record: Gun Lobby Campaign Spending; Dismantling the Brady Law; Placing Prosecutions of Illegal Gun Traffickers at Risk; Opposing the Federal Ban on Assault Weapons and High-Capacity Magazines; Support for Arming Felons; Placing Current Federal Gun Laws at Risk; and, Support for Criminals Carrying Concealed Weapons.
The Violence Policy Center announced its strong opposition to the nomination of Ashcroft last week. The VPC’s announcement represents the first time in the organization’s 12-year history that it has publicly opposed a federal cabinet nominee.
“John Ashcroft has repeatedly voted to weaken the Brady law and as Attorney General would work closely with the NRA to undermine the few safeguards in place to protect the American public from gun violence,” VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand said today.
Issues cited by the VPC in its opposition to Ashcroft and detailed in the study include:
- John Ashcroft would be the first Attorney General in recent history who has been the beneficiary of massive spending by a special interest group with a political agenda that is in direct conflict with the duties of the office. The NRA spent a combined total of $374,137 on behalf of Ashcroft in his failed 2000 Senate reelection bid. The NRA’s Political Action Committee contributed $9,900 directly to the Ashcroft campaign and spent $339,237 in independent expenditures on his Senate effort. The NRA also contributed $25,000 to the Ashcroft Victory Committee in March of 2000.
- In 1998 Ashcroft worked on behalf of the gun lobby in opposition to a provision in juvenile justice legislation which would have expanded federal authority to prosecute illegal firearm traffickers. Ashcroft’s concerns centered on a provision in the bill that would have added federal firearm violations to the list of offenses that would trigger prosecution under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute. The change would have subjected firearm traffickers to harsh federal penalties.The Violence Policy Center has obtained a copy of a handwritten note from Ashcroft to Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America (GOA) and the father of the modern militia movement. In 1996, Pratt was forced to take a leave of absence as co-chair of Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign after being linked with white supremacists and right-wing militia leaders. In the letter, Ashcroft thanked Larry Pratt for “bringing to my attention the RICO (2nd amendment) problems with the juvenile justice bill.”
He went on to say, “I am working to see that the RICO provisions are stripped from the bill prior to floor consideration.” He then referenced a letter that he and Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) had written to Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). The bill was later amended to weaken the provision dealing with illegal firearms trafficking.
- Ashcroft supports NRA efforts to immediately destroy essential records maintained under the Brady law’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that ensure the system’s effectiveness and accuracy. Currently the records are retained for six months.
- Ashcroft voted last Congress to weaken the Brady law. During Senate debate on whether to expand the current Brady NICS check to all sales at gun shows (not just those by federally licensed dealers), Ashcroft not only voted against the measure, but voted for legislation sponsored by Senator Hatch that would have weakened the Brady law by reducing the time allowed to conduct the background check by all gun-show sellers including licensed dealers from three business days to 24 hours.
- Ashcroft opposes the federal assault weapons ban. In September 2004 the federal ban on specific assault weapons and new high-capacity magazines which is supported by virtually every major national law enforcement organizationï¿½will come up for reauthorization by Congress. Ashcroft opposes the assault weapons ban and twice voted in the Senate against a ban on the importation of foreign-made high-capacity magazines. The Justice Department will likely play a key role in determining what form the reauthorized ban will take and whether or not needed improvements to the ban are made.
VPC Public Policy Director Joe Sudbay states, “During the 2000 elections, the National Rifle Association claimed that if George Bush won the presidency, the NRA would be working out of his office. Now they’ve gone one better. If John Ashcroft becomes attorney general, the NRA will be running the Justice Department.”