A federal court found Monday that the long-standing ban by the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands against handgun ownership and import is unconstitutional.
The suit, brought by U.S. Navy veteran David J. Radich and his wife, Li-Rong, challenged the commonwealth government’s anti-gun policies, particularly its total ban on handguns and refusal to issue permits for long arms. This came after the couple suffered from a home invasion that left Li-Rong severely injured. Following the attack, the Radich couple filed for Weapons Identification Cards with the CNMI Department of Public Safety in July 2013, which are required to own one of the few long guns allowed in the territory.
However, with their WICs still in limbo and handguns forbidden, the couple filed suit in 2014 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern Marianas Islands, claiming their Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights are in violation.
On Monday, the court agreed.
“If the Second Amendment individual right to keep and bear a handgun for self-defense is to have any meaning, it must protect an eligible individual’s right to purchase a handgun, as well as the complimentary right to sell handguns,” wrote Chief Judge Ramona Villagomez Manglona, of the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, in her 17 page ruling. Manglona is a 2011 appointment by President Obama.
Enjoining CNMI authorities from enforcing their ban on handguns and handgun ammunition, the archipelago is ordered to move forward with the same understanding of Heller and McDonald that has been established in the rest of the country.
“In the Commonwealth, the import ban on handguns can only operate as a sales ban on a constitutionally protected product. The import ban on handguns and their ammunition is unconstitutional and violates the Covenant; Defendants will be enjoined from enforcing it,” wrote Manglona.
To the argument by CNMI officials that handguns have never been legal in the Commonwealth, the court found little to defend.
“That handguns have never been used in the Commonwealth by law-abiding citizens for legitimate purposes does not render Heller inapplicable in this jurisdiction. Rather, because the people of the Commonwealth are part of the American people who have overwhelmingly chosen handguns as their principal means of self-defense, the Second Amendment protects that right here as well,” she wrote.
“Put simply, a government’s authority to act is limited by its duty not to violate individual rights,” said Manglona.
“We are very gratified by the Court’s ruling that the fundamental rights of self-defense, possession of the most commonly-used firearm for self-defense, and equal protection under the law apply to the CNMI just as they do on the mainland,” David G. Sigale, from Radich’s legal team, told Guns.com. “This is a great day for the Constitution and for personal freedom.”
The Second Amendment Foundation, which has joined with the National Rifle Association’s Civil Rights Legal Defense Fund and the Hawaii Defense Foundation to help fund the suit, always felt the case had merits, and though it immediately affects only 53,000 residents of the CNMI, will be felt in the rest of the country as well.
An appeal from the CNMI would send the case to the U.S. Ninth Circuit, which last year heard the combined Peruta and Richards challenge on may-issue handgun permits en banc and is mulling that decision.
“It will have a direct impact in the Ninth Circuit,” Second Amendment Foundation Executive Director Alan Gottlieb told Guns.com by phone on Monday. “It is another affirmation of the Second Amendment victories in Heller and McDonald. This ruling makes it harder for the gun prohibitionists to get around these important Supreme Court victories. This is one more Second Amendment Foundation victory in an unprecedented string of court victories. But we still must make sure that President Obama or a Hillary Clinton does not stack our courts with anti-rights judges.”