INS Accused of Lying to Immigrants About Second Amendment

By Michael L. Betsch | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

(Editor's Note: Correction fixes name in 6th paragraph.)

( - A study manual for immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship warns that "a special permit is required" by anyone wishing to exercise their constitutional "right to bear arms, or to own weapons."

The manual, issued by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), departs, at least in tone, from statements issued by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft regarding the Second Amendment and gun ownership.

Ashcroft, whose Justice Department has authority over the INS, earlier this year reinstated the traditional interpretation of the Second Amendment, which the federal government had maintained for more than 150 years.

While the Clinton administration's Justice Department had argued that the Second Amendment offered no guarantee for individuals to own firearms, Ashcroft, upon taking office, stated that the amendment "clearly protects the right of individuals to keep and bear firearms."

Nevertheless, the 58-page INS manual, entitled, "The United States Government Structure Study Guide for Civics Exam," warns would-be immigrants that the Second Amendment "guarantees the right to have weapons or own a gun, though subject to certain regulations." The INS proceeds to define the term "regulations" as: "Rules or orders which control actions and procedures."

Richard Stevens, editor of the Bill of Rights Sentinel and a critic of the INS, said the agency is promoting principles not contained in the Second Amendment. By his account, the INS is teaching immigrants "out and out lies" about the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

Contrary to the INS' translation of the Second Amendment, Stevens said, "There is absolutely no special permit requirement anywhere in the Constitution and Bill of Rights." There is no provision for "certain regulations" either, he said.

Stevens also faulted the INS study guide for neglecting to acknowledge that the Second Amendment states the people's right to keep and bear arms "shall not be infringed." He said the INS neglected to mention that clause so immigrants would believe that they are "disarmed in America."

INS spokesperson Niki Edwards told that the information contained in the study guide is devoted to teaching immigrants the "main principles" of the Constitution and should not be literally interpreted.

"It's not a verbatim account of the Constitution," Edwards said. The intent of the guide is only to "describe" the Constitution to immigrants, she said

Edwards said the INS only added the terms "special permit" and "certain regulations" in order to help explain to immigrants how "certain [constitutional] rights may be limited or regulated at the state level." Such "parenthetical statements" she said, "give them an idea of what the federal law is."

Further, she said immigrants need to know that there may be a "change" in their constitutional rights at the state or local level.

A replacement for the current "study aid" is under consideration, Edwards noted.

Department of Justice spokesperson Monica Goodling refused to comment on the INS' interpretation of the Second Amendment and the differences between it and the statements issued by Ashcroft.

Instead, Goodling offered a November 9, 2001 memorandum from the attorney general to "All United States Attorneys" pertaining to the United States v. Emerson case, in which the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal statute designed to keep firearms away from those who had been issued judicial restraining orders.

Within the letter, Ashcroft states, "The Department can and will continue to defend vigorously the constitutionality, under the Second Amendment, of all existing federal firearms laws. The Department has a solemn obligation both to federal law and to respect the constitutional rights guaranteed to Americans."

Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said the Ashcroft statement regarding the United States v. Emerson case, is irrelevant in terms of the way the INS explains the Second Amendment to prospective immigrants. Pratt said the statement only addresses federal "restrictions" to gun ownership.

He said the "special permits" provision that the INS added to its study guide is misleading. And while some states, including Illinois, require gun owners to get a permit, Pratt said the Constitution was written for Americans, not Illinois residents.

The Second Amendment, he said, was never intended by the Founding Fathers to reflect the policies of a state like Illinois or the INS.E-mail a news tip to Michael L. Betsch.

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