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Posted: 5/29/2002 10:11:45 PM EDT

Attorneys for two men accused of violating the District's ban on handguns are arguing that the law is unconstitutional, citing the Bush administration's position that the Second Amendment gives private citizens the right to bear arms.

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, the nation's top law enforcement official, recently reversed years of government policy by arguing that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of gun ownership to private citizens, not just to state militias.

The two D.C. defendants are likely to be the first of many to seize upon Ashcroft's position to make constitutional challenges to the city's handgun ban, one of the nation's most sweeping gun-control laws, defense lawyers and legal experts said yesterday.

"The Justice Department is now saying that a general statute like D.C.'s is contrary to the Second Amendment," said A.J. Kramer, the federal public defender in the District.

The motions were filed this month by the Public Defender Service on behalf of Michael A. Freeman, 26, and Vaughn Stebbins, 22. Each man is charged with carrying a pistol without a license, a criminal offense in the District since 1976. Each man has a juvenile record, but no adult convictions were listed in D.C. Superior Court records.

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