The House of Representatives adopted a slew of amendments and then passed a Senate bill to regulate firearms in the Commonwealth yesterday.
The amendments were welcomed by Attorney General Edward Manibusan whose office had drafted and proposed the sweeping legislation in the wake of a federal court ruling that essentially struck down the CNMI’s ban on handguns, an unpopular move among many in the community.
Manibusan called the amendments, about 10 of them, “good” and said he was happy the House sat down and deliberated on them.
“There was nothing wrong with the amendments. It makes the bill much stronger, I think. We appreciate all the efforts they put into the bill.”
The attorney general said the bill they put together was a “public interest” legislation that provided “security for the citizens.”
“And I think they [the House] did the right thing. The community will be much safer having gun laws in place, and we have a lot of work to do moving forward to provide some kind of education to the people and provide for registration for licensing.”
The bill heads back to the Senate for their consideration.
After the 19 yes votes were cast for the bill, Rep. Ed Propst (Ind-Saipan) urged that a public forum or a question-and-answer forum be set up for the concerned public.
“And ask the questions that need to be asked,” Propst said.
The House voted unanimously, all 19 members present voted yes.
Among other members, Rep. Antonio Sablan (Ind-Saipan) offered an amendment to include early childhood development centers as part of “gun free zones” established by the bill.
Rep. Vinne Sablan (Ind-Saipan) also offered amendments to include private and public clinics to these gun free zones. He also amended a section on “crimes of violence” to change “assault on a police officer” to a broader definition of “assault on law enforcement.”
House vice speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) offered, among others, an amendment to impose a temporary $1,000 excise tax on pistols, and commission a study on the effects of firearms.
Guerrero’s amendment mandates that the governor immediately commission and fund a study by professionals to determine the “true costs” to the Commonwealth, its government, businesses, non-profits, and the people, of the introduction of the firearms required by the federal court ruling.
The results of that study will be delivered to the governor and the Legislature so that suitable legislation can be proposed and adopted creating a “taxation scheme” that will require people and companies seeking to import or introduce these new firearms in the CNMI to shoulder these determined costs.
The study’s results must be delivered 60 days before the expiration of the temporary excise tax on pistols, which expires automatically after one year the bill is enacted.
Propst offered an amendment under the “definitions” part of the bill to define “container” as a “secure container which is fully enclosed and locked with a padlock, key lock, combination lock, or similar locking device and that meets the standards, specifications, and regulations established and approved by the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety.”
Rep. Blas Jonathan Attao’s (Ind-Saipan) amendment created a new section for “fines and fees.”
His amendments set that all fines and fees collected pursuant to the proposed act be distributed accordingly: 50 percent to the DPS for its personnel and operations in enforcing the act, with the DPS commissioner as the expenditure authority; 10 percent to the Divisions of Customs under the Department of Finance, with expenditure authority to the Finance secretary; 10 percent the Department of Corrections for its operations and enforcement of the act, with expenditure authority to its commissioner, 10 percent to the Division of Alcohol Beverage and Tobacco Control under the Department of Commerce for its operations and enforcement, with expenditure authority given to the Commerce secretary; and 20 percent reserved for all government buildings within the CNMI for the purchasing of proper security systems and other necessary equipment needed to upgrade the safety of the people within the government buildings. The Finance secretary is this provisions’ expenditure authority.