December 2001

Your Right to Keep and Bear Arms

In a landmark ruling, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans held October 16 that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right of individuals to keep and bear arms. The court rejected the arguments of the Clinton administration’s Justice Department that the Second Amendment does not apply to individuals but merely recognizes the right of the state to arm its militia.

The case, United States v. Emerson, arose out of a Texas divorce suit in which a restraining order had been issued against the husband, Dr. Timothy Joe Emerson, who was subsequently charged with violating a federal law that prohibits the possession of firearms while under such a court order. The trial court dismissed the charges against Emerson, saying the statute’s ban on possession of a firearm while a restraining order was in place, violated, among other rights, the doctor’s Second Amendment rights. The Janet Reno Justice Department appealed. While the appeals court ultimately upheld the validity of the federal law — finding that it did not infringe upon Dr. Emerson’s rights — the decision is the strongest ruling to date interpreting the Second Amendment.

The Court said the words, “the right of the people,” in the Second Amendment had the same meaning as when used in the First and Fourth Amendments and, like those amendments in the Bill of Rights, secures an individual or personal right, not a collective or states’ right. The Court wrote, “We hold, …that [the Second Amendment] protects the rights of individuals, including those not then actually a member of any militia or engaged in active military service or training, to privately possess and bear their own firearms, such as the pistol involved here, that are suitable as personal, individual weapons….”

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Daniel Egner, a Gun Tests subscriber in Houston, sent me an email that made me smile. His letter read, “There has been a lot of bad news lately, so you rejoice in whatever good news you can find.” In a heavily edited form, here’s the news he was talking about:


Subject: Important Message From Sarah Brady, November 8, 2001

Regretfully, I must report to you that in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on America, we have been forced to make significant cut backs in our programs, threatening our ability to fight for a safer America.… As I’m sure you know, fundraising for just about every non-profit organization in the country has been seriously impacted.… The Brady Campaign and Brady Center have not been exempt from this sharp downturn in contributions from the public. Consequently, our ability to meet the challenges before us has been severely curtailed. We desperately need your help now more than ever. In fact, as a part of our forced downsizing and restructuring, we have been forced to lay off approximately 20 percent of our staff. Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association, with its deep pockets, continues to try to exploit the September terrorist attacks as a reason to buy more guns.

Warm Regards,
Sarah Brady, Chair


Isn’t it amazing that in Ms. Brady’s entire letter, she is able to avoid a simple truth: That the September 11 hijackers took over those planes armed with boxcutters, knives, and their hands. No guns were used. Obviously, disarmed citizens are vulnerable citizens, whether on the ground or in the air — as gun owners have always known.

-Todd Woodard