Bill now head to Torres’ desk for action
A new gun bill to protect the CNMI from the effects of handguns has made its way out of the Legislature after the Senate passed a final version of the measure yesterday, sending it over to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ desk for action.
The new gun bill was proposed in the wake of a federal court ruling to strike down parts of the CNMI’s gun laws, effectively allowing for the permit of handguns in the CNMI for the first time, and were crafted by the CNMI Office of the Attorney General.
The new gun measure—technically called Senate Bill 19-94, SD1, HD10—defines, among many other provisions, the conditions that an individual can use a firearm for self-defense, and creates “gun free zones” in or around government buildings, daycare centers, jails, courts, schools, places of worship, clinics, and establishments that serve liquor, among many other places.
The Senate voted unanimously on the bill, which had passed the House on Tuesday, with 10 amendments attached. The Senate had first passed the bill last week.
Sen. Justo Quitugua (Ind-Saipan) said the main content of the bill was to regulate the use of handguns in the CNMI and to ensure handguns can only be carried to places not designated as handgun free zones.
It also ensures that people who are convicted of felonies and other crimes like sexual abuse and domestic violence do not have opportunity to get a license for handguns, he said.
Quitugua said the Senate consulted with the AG and his staff before they acted on the bill and its new amendments.
He said the AG concurred with the House amendments.
However, there was some concerns with a House amendment to impose a $1,000 excise tax on pistols.
That provision—offered by House vice speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero—has a sunset clause of one-year and works in tandem with another provision offered by Guerrero that mandates that a study be done on the costs and the effects of handguns in the CNMI.
Deleon Guerrero’s provision seeks 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 so that these results can be used to create 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.
“Hopefully, it might not be challenged,” Quitugua said of the excise tax provision.
“According to the AG, that amendment might be an indication that we are making it harder for qualified people to own a handgun and in a way infringes on their right to” own a handgun under the Second Amendment.
“…However, because it’s only a year, a sunset provision, we kind of just take what the AG said that we’ll just let it go hoping that nobody’s going to challenge” the provision through another lawsuit.
While the bill made its way through both houses of the Legislature, talks of an appeal of the U.S. District Court for the NMI’s ruling continued.
Gov. Ralph DLG Torres earlier said he wanted to appeal or stay the ruling, and Rep. Vinnie Sablan (Ind-Saipan) has introduced a resolution urging Torres and Manibusan to appeal the case.
Torres and Manibusan are set to meet this morning on the matter, Saipan Tribune learned, and Torres is willing to test the possibility of having another counsel argue the appeal, even as Manibusan on Tuesday said this would “probably not be appropriate” as the AG is the chief legal officer of the Commonwealth.
There’s also been a call to hold a public forum explaining the bill’s merit, which Rep. Ed Propst (Ind-Saipan) had urged for in the House session Tuesday.
“We have people in our community which need some explanation on this hand gun legislation,” Quitugua also said yesterday.
He added he has met with people out in the community to explain the bill and afterwards they were able to understand why we need this gun control legislation.
“There are few people saying why don’t we appeal it?” Quitugua said. “The ruling has indicated and the U.S. Supreme Court has already indicated that banning handguns is unconstitutional and it is infringing on the fundamental right of an individual and the Second Amendment” and “the AG is saying that is no chance on winning the appeal because the United States has already ruled on the handgun issue.”
The AG is also concerned about the costs of an appeal, Quitugua said, noting the initial costs of the lawsuit and plaintiff’s legal costs and fees the government has to shoulder, as well as the resources the AG spent to defend the NMI’s gun laws. “If you put those two together, the cost is higher than anticipated,” Quitugua said.
“But I think is a legislation has been anticipated for a couple of years already. I think the federal court, in my opinion, has taken this suit slowly and it’s an indication that with the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that we need to come up with some kind of control on the use of handguns,” he added.
In drafting the bill, the AG’s office offered a section-by-section analysis of its provisions, drawing from the Ninth Circuit District Court’s consideration of Second Amendment challenges to firearm law.
The AG notes, citing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in an earlier case, the right secured by the Second Amendment “is not unlimited.”
“In drafting each provision, the attorney general has carefully considered whether the provision infringes on the Second Amendment right, and if so, the extent of such infringement,” AG lawyers said in the analysis.
“The attorney general’s goal is to create comprehensive firearms control that complies with the Second Amendment right.”