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US court: NMI handgun ban unconstitutional

DISTRICT Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona on Monday said the commonwealth law banning handguns and handgun ammunition is unconstitutional.

The plaintiffs in this case are U.S. Navy veteran David J. Radich and his wife, Li Rong, who sued the then-commissioner of the Department of Public Safety and the secretary of the Department of Finance in their official capacities.

In her 17-page order dated March 28, 2016, Manglona said the handgun and handgun ammunition ban and the handgun and handgun ammunition import ban contained in 6 CMC 222 is in violation of the Covenant which incorporates the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Because the Covenant applies both the Second Amendment and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to the CNMI as if it were a state, and it is unconstitutional for a state to ban handguns for self-defense purposes in the home or to restrict handgun possession to citizens and not lawful permanent residents, the court must grant the Radiches’ cross-motion for summary judgment as to all counts, and similarly deny the defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment in its entirety,” the judge said.

She also declared unconstitutional and in violation of the Covenant the prohibition on issuing a weapons identification card to lawful permanent residents, as well as the implied prohibition on issuing such cards for self-defense or “family defense.”

Manglona said DPS and Finance are permanently enjoined from enforcing the unconstitutional handgun and handgun ammunition bans contained in commonwealth law against the plaintiffs.

The judge added that DPS is permanently enjoined from refusing to issue a weapons identification card to plaintiffs for self-defense purposes or family defense.

Manglona said DPS can issue the card to the plaintiffs if the department finds that they satisfy the unchallenged provisions of the Weapons Control Act, no later than 30 days after the issuance of this decision and order.

The plaintiffs are also awarded costs and fees.

Background

The CNMI prohibits most private individuals from possessing or importing handguns and handgun ammunition. In order to possess any firearm, an individual must first apply for and receive a weapons identification card.

An application requires that an applicant state his reason for possessing a firearm but strongly recommends that the applicant not use “family protection” as the reason.

The cards are limited to U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals who reside within the CNMI but cannot be issued to lawful permanent residents.

The plaintiffs said the commonwealth’s restrictions violate the Second Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The federal court agreed.

Radich served on active duty in the U.S. Navy during the Gulf War and continued his public service on Tinian with the CNMI Public School System.

He moved to Saipan in 2008 and married Li Rong, a Chinese citizen who has been a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. since they got married.

In 2010, Li Rong was attacked and savagely beaten when she was home alone. She suffered two broken ribs, facial contusions and possibly a broken orbital bone and eye socket.

The couple applied for a weapons identification card from DPS on July 31, 2013 but no action was taken on their application.

They sued then-DPS Commissioner James Deleon Guerrero in his capacity to enforce the CNMI gun control law and Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson in her capacity to enforce CNMI import laws.

In her ruling, Judge Manglona said “the Second Amendment as well as the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, are the law of the land in the CNMI as if it were a state.”

She said the Second Amendment, made applicable in the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, protects the fundamental right of armed self-defense, and prohibits any state from completely banning handguns.

She said because the commonwealth’s gun laws ban the right to keep and bear handguns, or any firearm for the purpose of self-defense, and because the import ban would frustrate the exercise of that right, “the commonwealth’s laws are unconstitutional and the defendants must be enjoined from enforcing them.”

In Dec. 2014, then-DPS Commissioner James Deleon Guerrero and. Assistant Attorney General James Zarones, who represented Deleon Guerrero in the lawsuit, urged the CNMI Legislature to “swiftly and without hesitation” pass the gun control law introduced by then-Sen. Pete P. Reyes in anticipation of an unfavorable federal court ruling.

Today, Wednesday, lawmakers will finally act on a similar bill.