We normally only hear about the Northern Mariana Islands in the news once every four years when presidential candidates are trying to nab a few extra delegates in a tight race. (Trump swept all nine delegates in the GOP race this year, while Sanders and Clinton pretty much split them on the Democrats’ side.) But the far flung territory is making some headlines this year for a different reason. They may not be a state, but they still fall under the US legal system and our Constitution… at least to a degree. The territory has an administration which is decidedly unfriendly to Second Amendment rights and they were the last place under the US umbrella which still had a complete ban on handguns in place until the law was struck down in court two weeks ago.
Great news, right? Well… not so fast. As the NRA Institute for Legal Action reports, the territorial Governor responded by signing a new raft of rules into law which seek to sidestep the courts and still make it virtually impossible to exercise your rights.
On Monday, Governor Ralph Torres signed the “Special Act for Firearm Enforcement” (SAFE) into law. In addition to using the same misleading acronym as other recent gun control laws, the Act reads like a pieced together compendium of the “reasonable restrictions” other antigun jurisdictions have passed to thumb their noses at the Supreme Court’s decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago.
The Commonwealth’s new “SAFE” law generally bans “assault weapons” and “large capacity magazines”, prohibits the public carrying of any firearms, and creates so many “gun-free zones” as to make firearm possession on the islands practically impossible.
The Act also creates a one thousand dollar excise tax on the importation of any pistol. This tax alone is in direct contravention of the court’s ruling that the people of the Commonwealth have a right to possess handguns for defense of themselves and their families.
Wait a minute. Some of you are probably wondering how one of our own territories is imposing a tax on imports. The states aren’t allowed to do that, so how can these guys get away with it? The answer to that question is found in the laws regarding imports to and exports from the Insular Possessions of the United States other then Puerto Rico, 19 CFR 7.2(b).
Importations into Guam, American Samoa, Wake Island, Midway Islands, Johnston Atoll, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands are not governed by the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended, or the regulations contained in this chapter. The customs administration of Guam is under the Government of Guam. The customs administration of American Samoa is under the Government of American Samoa. The customs administration of Wake Island is under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Air Force (General Counsel). The customs administration of Midway Islands is under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Navy. There is no customs authority on Johnston Atoll, which is under the operational control of the Defense Nuclear Agency. The customs administration of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is under the Government of the Commonwealth.
Unlike Puerto Rico (which is about as close to being a state without actually having a star on the flag as anyplace except the District of Columbia), our other territories still get to act much like foreign nations when it comes to certain matters of trade. This allows them to control imports and exports in this fashion to a degree. But rather than controlling trade issues and the price of consumer goods, this tarriff is clearly being used in a pejorative fashion to restrict Second Amendment rights. Will they get away with it? A court challenge may clarify this point later, but for the moment it certainly appears that they can.
If there’s one other lesson to be taken from this, at least in political terms, we should be learning that any legislation named “SAFE Act” should be a red flag by this point. Just look at all the damage which has come from the New York SAFE Act, most of which we’ve covered here in depth. When you see a duplicitous name like that you can bet that the underlying legal text is intended to do nothing more than subvert the Second Amendment rights of the citizens while solving essentially zero problems in terms of crime and violence. Northern Mariana Islands is no exception to this rule and they’re playing the game full force out across the Pacific right now.