A recent District Court decision to strike down the last handgun ban in the United States—namely in the U.S. commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands—might end up being a short-lived victory for those who would like to own a firearm for self-defense.
First, a little background.
Late last month, Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona of the United States District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands ruled that the bans on handgun possession, possession of any firearm for self-defense purposes, importation of handguns, and firearm possession by resident aliens violated the Second and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution.
In 2013, married couple David and Li-Rong Radich sought firearm licenses for self-defense after Li-Rong was attacked in their home. After no action was taken on their applications, the Radiches filed their suit challenging the bans.
Judge Manglona began her opinion by examining the application of the U.S. Constitution to the commonwealth of the Mariana Islands. She found that while some provisions of the Constitution do not directly apply to the commonwealth, certain provisions, including the Second Amendment and section 1 of the 14th Amendment, do apply via the founding covenant that formed the islands’ political union with the United States.
After finding that the Second and 14th Amendments applied to Mariana Islands' citizens, it was a simple matter of applying the Supreme Court’s precedents from District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago to the prohibitions in question. On Monday, Gov. Ralph Torres signed into law a hastily thrown-together measure to make firearm ownership much more restrictive while not directly defying the court decision.
Fast forward just a few weeks, and we find vehemently anti-gun government officials in the Marianas already working to skirt the ruling.
On Monday, Gov. Ralph Torres signed into law a hastily thrown-together measure to make firearm ownership much more restrictive while not directly defying the court decision. The new law imposes a $1,000 excise tax on all handguns.
“This is something that none of us wanted to have,” the governor said in his remarks upon signing Senate Bill 19-94, now Public Law 19-42. “I don’t think anyone here in this office wants to see handguns on the street. Unfortunately, however, the only option we have is to make regulations as strict as possible.”
The original version of the measure was drafted by Attorney General Edward Manibusan’s office. As reported yesterday on Mvariety.com, Manibusan said the signing of the measure is something to be happy about “even if it is not really a happy moment because having handguns in the commonwealth is not something to be happy about.”
“In the first place we don’t want it, this is not something that we want in the commonwealth—the proliferation of handguns—nonetheless, we worked hard with the governor and members of the legislature to ensure that we have legislation in place, and that’s why we are here today,” he added. “This bill provides strong language to ensure the safety of gun owners and that of citizens from the people who own guns legally.”
In effect, the government has still made it impossible for people of normal means to own a handgun for self-defense—the very situation struck down by the District Court. It will leave the Radich family—the couple who filed the lawsuit in the first place, simply wishing to have their Second Amendment rights recognized—in the same dangerous situation they were before Judge Manglona’s ruling. And it will wrongly discriminate against those citizens who aren’t rich enough to afford a $1,000 tax to own a handgun.
Certainly the new tax—effectively a ban, except for those who are very wealthy—will be challenged in court. Hopefully, Mariana’s gun-ban politicians will eventually get the message delivered by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Heller decision—that the Second Amendment protects the individual right to keep and bear arms.