A federal district court has thrown out extensive gun regulations as unconstitutional after a military veteran challenged a major gun restriction law in Northern Mariana. Here comes extensive coverage.
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is a United States territory in the Pacific Ocean acquired after World War II under the United Nations.
The new court decision comes based upon two major Supreme Court decisions.
Citing Supreme Court cases District of Columbia v. Heller from 2008 and its progeny and McDonald v. Chicago from 2010, the judge found many of the gun restrictions under local law to be unconstitutional: “the firearm registration requirement, the ban on rifles in calibers larger than .223, the ban on assault weapons, the ban on transporting operable firearms, and the $1,000 excise tax.” The judge upheld “the license requirement, the restrictions on storing firearms in the home, and the ban on LCMs [large capacity magazines].”
This case was decided by District Court Judge Ramona V. Manglona and Barrack Obama appointee and marks another major decision where Democratic appointees or “liberal” judges have respected and upheld gun rights.
WAR VETERAN PAUL MURPHY SUES
Iraq war veteran Paul Murphy sued the local government including Robert Guerrero the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety to prevent them from enforcing local laws. He opposed license and registration, restrictions on gun storage, bans of high caliber weapons, “assault weapons,” and LCMs.
RECENT FAVORABLE GUN RIGHTS DECISIONS
In March, a unanimous Supreme Court threw out a stun gun restriction in the state of Massachusetts in a summary order overturning the state supreme court. By September, the Massachusetts Supreme Court itself went in a different direction and threw out a conviction of a gun registration violation found without “reasonable suspicion.”
NORTHERN MARIANA RECENT HISTORY
In addition to those decisions, the federal district court ruled earlier this year [PDF] in a related case that the Second Amendment right to firearms existed and applied to the Northern Mariana territory. The legislature, lamenting over that decision, maintained gun restrictions [PDF] to the extent it believed it could push against the federal right:
Unfortunately, the Commonwealth Weapons Control Act was challenged … The Commonwealth was engaged in two difficult lawsuits, which were admirably and tirelessly fought by the Office of the Attorney General. Unfortunately … [the court] held that the Second Amendment applies …
Therefore, the Legislature reluctantly accepts that it must legalize the ownership and possession of firearms to the extent required by the Second Amendment. The Legislature is therefore passing the Special Act for Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) to create a framework [for gun rights].”
LAWSUIT CONTINUES DESPITE LEGISLATURE CHANGES
After the changes, Paul Murphy, who was already in court, amended his lawsuit to challenge the new law. The new 55 page decision [PDF] deals with “any remaining issues with the Weapons Control act [after the changes] and new issues arising from SAFE.” There were many.
DETAILS OF THE COURT DECISION
For the most part, the court struck down [PDF] provisions of the SAFE law. There were a few exceptions. Here are the specifics.
The law required a Weapon Identification Card (WIC) with a background check and safety course. The application process took between 15 and 60 days. The court upholds this requirement.
The WIC acts as both a license and gun registration — a gun owner must obtain a WIC for each weapon. The court finds the license aspect legal, but strikes down the registration aspect.
It makes sense that a firearm registration requirement would not decrease firearm-related deaths; the regulation makes no distinction between prospective gun owners as to the likelihood that they will misuse the weapon, as distinct from the individual license requirement, which does. (Pages 22-23)
A WIC lasted for two years. The court finds this period valid “because it only requires an application and a background check every two years–nothing more.” (Page 24)
The law permitted confiscation of weapons where there was no WIC for the particular weapon. The court strikes down the portion that “requires a seizure of firearms … until the firearms are registered.” (Page 24)
The law required weapons to be “stored in a locked container or disabled with a trigger lock.” The court finds that this restriction applies only to storage — unlike the ban in the leading Heller case, the storage or trigger requirement does not apply when a gun owner “carries” the weapon. An age restriction of 21 is also upheld.
The law banned large capacity magazines (LCMs). Applying an appeals court decision, the court permits the ban on LCMs with more than ten rounds, as supported by studies showing that ten rounds meets the needs of self-defense while mass shootings with LCMs may have been “stopped sooner.”
The law limited the caliber of rifles. The court finds, “The Commonwealth’s ban on rifles larger than .223 caliber burdens the core Second Amendment right to armed self-defense.” The court finds the government’s argument to be without evidence.
But even assuming that the restriction will have its intended effect of reducing the effective range of weapons, there is no evidence that such a limitation actually makes bystanders safer from errant shots… The Commonwealth cannot heavily burden a constitutional right with such scant evidence.
The law included a series of “assault rifle” bans. The court strikes these down, finding the bans serving the opposite of their intended purposes.
To the extent that the Commonwealth worries about stray bullets striking innocent bystanders, features that make guns more accurate–as it appears most of the grips and the flash suppressor may do–actually serve public safety by making stray shots less likely.
Because the assault weapons ban does not support the commonwealth’s legitimate interest in protecting the public … The court will strike down the bans on the following rifle attachments:
- pistol grips that protrude beneath the action;
- thumbnail stocks;
- folding or telescoping stocks;
- flare launchers;
- flash suppressors; and
- forward pistol grips.
The law made it illegal to carry operable guns in transport. Applying a recent appeals court decision [PDF], the court struck the provision down noting, “the law destroys the right of a licensed individual to carry and transport an operable gun in public.”
Finally, the law required a tax upon importation into the territory of $1000. The government claimed that revenue was needed and the court could not second-guess its methods. But the court stuck this “tax” down:
the tax places an excessive burden on the exercise of the right of law-abiding citizens to purchase handguns for self-defense without a corresponding important governmental interest. Accordingly, the law cannot stand.
EVERYONE DECLARES VICTORY
The gun rights advocacy site Guns.com declares victory after the decision.
A federal ruling issued this week struck down a handgun registration scheme, a ban on assault weapons and public carry, and a $1,000 excise tax on handguns in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
However, Mariana Islands government also declares victory, but heads back to the drawing board to prepare the next law.
“The Office of the Attorney General is pleased to have succeeded on the most important provisions of the Special Act for Fire Arms Enforcement (“SAFE”),” said Attorney General Edward Manibusan. “My office will continue to address the outstanding legal issues through legislation.”
Nevertheless, the government has prepared to push the limits of the Second Amendment again with more legislative changes.
Anticipating such a holding, the attorney general said that his office has already prepared legislation that will regulate the carrying of firearms in public to guarantee the safety of the community in a manner that is consistent with the United States and Commonwealth Constitutions.
This legislation will be submitted to the legislature for its consideration. Manibusan also stated that, “the other issues raised by the court are addressed in the Second Special Act for Firearms Enforcement (“SAFE II”), which has already been submitted to the legislature for action.” “We urge the Legislature to act expeditiously to ensure that proper and enforceable gun controls in the Commonwealth,” the attorney general stated.