The Clinton Presidential Library’s latest “document dump” reveals that the White House counsel’s office disagreed with the Second Amendment interpretation of an individual’s right to bear arms.
A memo dated May 5, 1995, from Deputy White House Counsel James Castello advised President Clinton to choose his words carefully at a commencement address at Michigan State University.
“I understand that the President may talk about the right to bear arms in his commencement address today,” Castello wrote. “In doing so, he should avoid referring to a constitutional right of individuals to bear arms, because this would imply an interpretation of the Second Amendment that the courts have rejected and that might be inconsistent with the President’s own support of certain gun legislation such as the ban on semi-automatic weapons.”
Castello continued by mentioning an appearance on “60 Minutes” in which Clinton said the United States “believes and, indeed, enshrines in our Constitution the right to keep and bear arms,” an assessment with which Castello took issue.
“We have already received one press call asking whether, in this statement, the President was repudiating the courts’ (and most scholars’) view that the Second Amendment was aimed at protecting state government militias. The latter view derives support from the Amendment’s full text,” he wrote.
Clinton did not mention the Second Amendment in his address that day. He focused his remarks on domestic and foreign challenges, and anti-government extremism in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, which had occurred just more than two weeks prior.
In the previous year and a half, Clinton had signed into law the Federal Assault Weapons Ban and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, federal background check legislation.