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Justice Department to Affirm
Individual Right to Keep & Bear Arms

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Reversing a position held since the 1970s, United States Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers are poised to issue an opinion contending individual citizens have the right to buy and use firearms, as opposed to a group or collective right.

Department of Justice

The opinion, expected to be issued by the department's Office of Legal Counsel, would follow the lead of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. The action has been attacked by gun control groups but praised by the National Rifle Association.

Ashcroft recently drew the wrath of gun control groups when he sent a letter to the National Rifle Association saying he interpreted the Second Amendment as meaning the right to bear arms is not merely a collective right through the formation of militias, but a right of individual citizens.

Gun control advocates have maintained that there is no individual constitutional right to possess firearms, and argue that this Justice Department change could make it harder to regulate or limit the availability of guns.

Justice Department officials said the change should not affect its position in the case of a Texas man charged with brandishing a weapon in the presence of his estranged wife and children. A federal statute forbids possession of a weapon by an individual under a court-ordered restraining order.

The case, U.S. v. Emerson, is currently before a federal appeals court in Texas. The Justice Department has argued that Timothy Emerson violated federal law by owning a gun while under a restraining order, which prohibited him from owning a gun.

"The attorney general has already enunciated his views on this on official letterhead, and whether or not the Office of Legal Counsel issues a letter, it's not going to change our position in the current case," said a senior Justice Department official, who asked not to be identified.

The official said the Justice Department's lawyers will continue to support the view that the man violated the law. That position is consistent with that taken by the Justice Department during the Clinton administration.

Last week, the advocacy group Common Cause and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence organizations filed an ethics complaint against Ashcroft, an NRA member. They argued this views on gun ownership undermines the government's position in the Texas case.

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