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article imageRuling puts Pacific islanders in gun debate crosshairs

By AFP     Mar 29, 2016 in World

America's heated gun debate has extended to a remote Pacific territory, with a court overturning a ban on handguns in the Northern Marianas after ruling it breached the US Constitution's Second Amendment.

In a ruling greeted with dismay by the island territory's leaders, the US District Court found the right to bear arms enshrined in the Second Amendment also applied to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

"The Second Amendment... (is) the law of the land in the CNMI as if it were a (US) state," judge Ramona V. Manglona said in a written judgement released Monday.

The challenge to CNMI restrictions was backed by the Second Amendment Foundation pro-gun group, which hailed the decision as "a big win".

Governor Ralph Torres said he was considering an appeal but would also look at introducing safety measures such as background checks and waiting times if the judgement stood.

"The administration is disappointed with the decision and is evaluating its right to appeal... and other possible legal options to prohibit the introduction of handguns into the CNMI," a spokesman told the Saipan Tribune on Wednesday.

The Northern Marianas -- an island chain about 2,300 kilometres (1,430 miles) east of the Philippines with a population of 54,000 -- has been a self-governing commonwealth of the United States since 1976.

The basis of its legal system is its Covenant, or agreement, with Washington, but Manglona ruled that the Constitution still applied.

She rejected the government's argument that handguns were not constitutionally protected in the CNMI because, unlike the United States, there was no history of them being kept for self defence.

Local politician Edwin Propst said the prospect of easily concealed handguns being readily available in the small island group was "troubling and alarming".

"This is very dangerous and everyone should be concerned about it," he told the Marianas Variety news website.

Mass shootings -- in which at least four people are killed or injured -- occur almost daily in the United States.

President Barack Obama has repeatedly expressed frustration at his inability to pass gun control legislation in the face of fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers, many of whom are backed by the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group.

"We got involved in this case because the violation was so egregious," Second Amendment Foundation's Alan Gottlieb said.

"The CNMI's gun control laws ban handguns or using any firearm for self-defence. That's unconstitutional, and Judge Manglona says so."

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