AG: NMI ready to defend gun law

Torres expected to sign sweeping gun bill into today

Attorney General Edward Manibusan told Gov. Ralph DLG Torres on Friday that his office is ready to defend landmark legislation to regulate the possession of firearms in the Commonwealth when enacted into law, particularly over any legal challenges to a proposed heavy tax on pistols.

At the same time, Office of the Governor spokesman Ivan Blanco said that Torres and Lt. Gov. Victor Hocog would be holding a signing ceremony for the firearm legislation today, Monday, April 11, at 9am at the governor’s conference room to enact into law the Special Act for Firearm Enforcement, or SAFE Act.

The bill was proposed in the wake of a federal court ruling to strike down parts of the CNMI’s gun laws, effectively allowing the permit of handguns in the CNMI for the first time.

The proposed SAFE Act has assault weapons banned, requires trigger locks on firearms; addresses expected increase in firearm violence by establishing new crimes; and creates gun free zones around public and private places.

Manibusan, in a letter to Torres Friday, recommended the passage of the gun control bill and found no legal deficiency with the bill, but highlighted one “serious concern” with the House amendment to impose a $1,000 excise tax on pistols.

“Although taxing jurisdictions are given broad discretionary authority to impose taxes to protect general welfare, I am concerned that the $1,000 tax per pistol may be too excessive and unreasonably infringes on an individual’s fundamental right protected by the Second Amendment,” Manibusan said in his two-page letter Friday. “Nevertheless, should this matter be brought to court, my office is prepared to defend this provision of the bill.

There are several cases involving gun control and the scope of the Second Amendment that are before the federal courts, Manibusan said, including a case in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dealing “with controls on the carrying of firearms in public places.”

“Indeed, that same issue remains pending in the district court in Murphy v. Deleon Guerrero,” he added, referring to another case challenging NMI’s gun law.

“My office will continue to monitor the case law as these issues move through the federal courts and make recommend changes to Commonwealth law as deemed necessary,” he said.

On Friday, he wrote that the bill will “fill the void” in the regulation of firearm possession because of the federal court’s “nullification of the 40-year ban on handguns.” It will also secure the safety and security of the people by updating gun control laws to address the “reality of gun possession,” in the application of the Second Amendment to the CNMI.

The bill relies heavily on the District Court of Columbia and Illinois, “which have the most restrictive gun control statutes in the nation,” Manibusan also said.

He also noted that his office has worked tirelessly on a section-by-section analysis of the draft bill, which represents and explains the intent of the SAFE act.

The bill passed the Legislature last week and acknowledges the incorporation of this analysis, which cited earlier case law to emphasize that the rights under the Second Amendment are “not unlimited.”

Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at

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