Northern Marianas battles with gun ownership laws
Lawmakers in the Northern Marianas have scrambled to come to grips with gun rights after an historic court ruling freed up ownership there.
Lawmakers in the Northern Marianas have scrambled to come to grips with gun rights after an historic court ruling freed up ownership.
Last month a United States Federal Court threw out the territory's 30-year-old Weapons Control Act after civil action was launched.
Koro Vaka'uta reports.
The Weapons Control Act effectively restricted handgun ownership to law enforcement officials. However the law came under scrutiny when a US Navy veteran David Radich and his wife challenged it as unconstitutional. Our correspondent in the CNMI Mark Rabago says the action came after the couple became victims of crime in 2010.
MARK RABAGO: The Radich couple were robbed and the guy Radich was off-island and the wife was actually alone at the house. She was robbed and she had some very, very serious injuries because of that and they wanted to protect themselves. They feel that the Second Amendment should apply to CNMI.
Local authorities were disappointed with the court ruling, freeing up gun ownership. Governor Ralph Torres says the legalising of handguns changes the whole CNMI and the way the commonwealth enjoys freedom and the luxury of not having handguns. His Press Secretary is Ivan Blanco.
IVAN BLANCO: After how many years of enjoying a handgun free society, now we have to be concerned, now we have to beef up our police force, including our other law enforcement officers. It's going to be another additional expenditure in our budget.
Mr Blanco says the ruling could have a significant impact on security in the CNMI. The Commonwealth Ports Authority executive director, MaryAnn Lizama, agrees the dynamics of security have changed.
MARYANN LIZAMA: What we do here is protect the travelling public and the airports and sea port community. It's a game changer for my law enforcement officers. This whole right to bear arms with the handguns, now we have to beef up security. Not only do we have to stand up security posture, we have to tighten security measures.
Ms Lizama says there is a real sense of concern in the community.
MARYANN LIZAMA: As a citizen myself and this being my island home, I never had to worry about anybody else carrying a handgun. Now there is always something at the back of my mind that somebody else could be holding or somebody else could be packing and I wouldn't know. So that will be in the back of my law enforcement officers' minds because as a citizen that's in the back of my mind.
She says there will be a financial cost because liability has increased with law enforcement officers now more vulnerable. This week the Senate responded to the ruling by passing an amended bill, defining the terms when a person can use a firearm, creating gun-free zones and stopping convicted felons from legally owning guns. Ivan Blanco says the new gun laws are just the start of moves to restrict handgun ownership.
IVAN BLANCO: After the law has passed further discussions will be taking place on whether to go forward with an appeal or concentrate on proper regulations to limit the proliferation of handguns in the CNMI so we have a long ways to go and we will be looking at other areas that have already regulations in place.
The lawyer for the Radichs advised them to remain silent on their reaction to the ruling however he says his clients are happy and looking forward to acquiring a handgun for their personal protection.
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