ON CHALLENGE TO CONSTITUTIONALITY OF SAFE ACT PROVISIONS

Murphy: $1K tax on handguns sets terrible precedent

U.S. Army veteran Paul M. Murphy says the $1,000 excise tax on handguns sets a terrible precedent against fundamentally protected rights.

“Nowhere, ‘till now, in the history of the United States of America has there ever a $1,000 tax imposed on a handgun,” said Murphy in his memorandum filed in the U.S. District Court for the NMI.

He asserted that such tax that the CNMI imposed under the newly enacted law, Special Act for Firearms and Enforcement (SAFE), is clearly in direct contravention to the U.S. District Court for the NMI’s ruling that the people of the Commonwealth have a right to possess handguns for self-defense.

Murphy’s lawsuit against Department of Public Safety Commissioner Robert Guerrero and Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson challenged the constitutionality of some provisions of SAFE, which extensively revised the gun control laws of the CNMI.

Murphy argued, among other things, that the enforcement of some provisions in the SAFE Act and CNMI Weapons Control Act has and continues to violate his Second and 14th Amendment rights.

Guerrero and Larson, through the Office of the Attorney General, then filed a motion for summary judgment. OAG asserted that ban on assault rifles and the $1,000 tax on handguns in the CNMI as well as other SAFE provisions are constitutional.

Assistant attorney general Charles E. Brasington asserted that the ban on assault rifles in the Commonwealth survives intermediate scrutiny because the CNMI has a significant, substantial, and important interest in public safety, and there is a reasonable fit between the ban on assault rifles and protecting public safety.

Brasington argued that the $1,000 tax on pistols is constitutional because it is a legitimate use of the Commonwealth’s unique ability under the Covenant to control its own customs territory.

In Murphy’s memorandum in support of response to Guerrero and Larson’s motion, Murphy said the purpose of the $1,000 tax to fund a study on the increased cost of handguns does not exist.

Murphy cited that the CNMI has had firearms since it became a Commonwealth in 1978 and that no known CNMI firearms-related study has ever been conducted.

He said the study would begin with a subjective presumption that handguns will increase costs again singling out the Second Amendment for especially unfavorable treatment.

Murphy also argued that the storage provisions of the SAFE Act, the ban on “assault weapons,” and the criminalization of and ban on ammunition feeding devices of more than 10 rounds do not survive strict scrutiny and therefore, unconstitutional.

In his pro se lawsuit or without a lawyer, Murphy asked the court to issue a preliminary and permanent injunctions enjoining DPS Commissioner Guerrero from enforcing against him the firearms and ammunition storage restrictions and the prohibition on obtaining, owning, and possessing ammunition feeding devices of more than 10 rounds.

Murphy alleged that DPS withheld all his firearms and ammunition until the issuance of a firearms, ammunition, and explosive identification card on Sept. 20, 2007.

He said his two firearms were sent to the Guam Police Department armory for holding, while the ammunition is being held by the CNMI DPS Firearms Section.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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