ATTORNEY General John Ashcroft seems undeterred by concerns about his extremist views on the issue of gun control. He has affirmed those concerns by drastically reducing the length of time the government can keep records of instant background checks about gun buyers. The action brought cheers from the National Rifle Association but concerns in the legal community about the swerving direction of the Department of Justice. The Bush administration needs for Ashcroft to abandon his misguided crusade against gun control.
Ashcroft aligns himself
with NRA in slashing
FBIs ability to track guns
The issue: The U.S. attorney general
has reduced the time that the FBI can
keep gun-purchase background checks.
The FBI has been retaining records of background checks for up to six months for purposes of auditing them to determine their effectiveness. Paranoid that the FBI was keeping a gun registry of citizens, the NRA complained loudly. President Clinton agreed to reduce the record-keeping to 90 days -- the minimum time the FBI said it needed to review the records for evidence of fraud and corruption among gun sellers and buyers.
The NRA fought the audit length in court, but the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider its argument. Three days later, Ashcroft decided that the FBI should destroy the records within a day after gun purchases are made. While Ashcroft's decision is subject to review, he clearly intended to provide through executive action what the rifle association had failed to win in court.
Soon after becoming attorney general, Ashcroft wrote a letter to the NRA affirming his devotion to its cause. "Let me state unequivocally," he wrote, "my view that the text and the original intent of the Second Amendment clearly protect the right of individuals to keep and bear arms."
Until recently, no federal judge had ruled since 1938 that individuals have a constitutional right to bear arms, and that ruling was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court a year later. The Second Amendment clearly states that the right was created for the purpose of arming "a well-regulated militia." Such a militia was the state-run, 18th-century equivalent of today's National Guard, which no longer relies on members owning their own firearms.
In the past 60 years, that interpretation of the Second Amendment has been reiterated twice by the Supreme Court and heeded consistently in more than 100 state and federal cases. Two years ago, a federal judge in Texas broke the string by citing what he regarded as an individual's right to bear arms in restoring a domestic abuser's firearms. That case in now on appeal by the Justice Department, whose attorneys are arguing a Second Amendment interpretation to which their boss is rabidly opposed.
The amendment's interpretation by the gun lobby and by Ashcroft is misinformed, at the very least. Former Chief Justice Warren Burger in 1991 called the NRA's propaganda on the issue "one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word "fraud" on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime." It is not a position that should continue to be embraced by the attorney general.
A report from U.S. surgeon general David Satcher properly maintains that parents should be a child's primary source of information about sexual functions and behavior, and that while abstinence should be encouraged, by no means can it reasonably be the only birth control advice offered to young people.
Surgeon generals report
puts sex education
in hands of parents
The issue: A surgeon general's study
emphasizes that parents should be the chief
source of information about matters of sex.
The report -- based on a two-year review of hundreds of scientific studies and journal articles -- also encourages schools, community groups and religious organizations to provide the nation's youth with thorough and medically accurate sex education to prevent unwanted pregnancies, sexual abuse and sexually transmitted diseases.
Satcher's rational recommendations predictably riled conservatives who hold to the abstinence-only philosophy of sex education. Yet, the report found there was insufficient research to support the premise that courses teaching abstinence until marriage were successful in delaying sexual activity among unmarried teen-agers.
At the same time, the report found no scientific evidence that discussions about sexuality, diseases or contraception encouraged young people to engage in sexual activity at an earlier age. It did find that students who had taken sex education were more likely to use protection if they became sexually active.
The surgeon general prudently stressed the value of remaining abstinent until involved in an enduring, monogamous relationship and emphasized that there is no infallible method of protecting against disease and pregnancy other than abstinence.
The report found no valid evidence that a person's sexual orientation can be altered despite assertions from groups such as Focus on the Family that homosexuals can change through force of will. Satcher said, however, that there was proof that physical abuse, insults or isolation of young gay people can undermine their mental health, sometimes resulting in depression or suicide.
Sex education in schools is not about morality. Its purpose is to give young people the information they need to understand the sexual functions of their bodies and their minds, and the consequences of sexual activity. Schools and parents ideally should collaborate about what's offered in the classroom and if parents object, their children should be able to opt out.
However, discussions about sex should be part of every parent's agenda as children grow into adolescence. It is in the home that parents can pass on their values and religious beliefs. They can then feel confident that their teachings will be reflected in the sexual behavior of their young ones.
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