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Gun Ban Struck Down in Northern Mariana Islands

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (CN) - The victim of a home invasion won the right to buy a handgun for home defense on Monday, after a federal judge ruled the Northern Mariana Islands' 40-year handgun ban is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Chief Judge Ramona Manglona ordered officials of the U.S. commonwealth to immediately cease their enforcement of its ban on issuing weapons information cards, or permits, to legal permanent residents wishing to buy a gun for family protection. Her ruling also puts an end to a ban on import of guns and ammunition to the Pacific island chain.

In 2010 while home alone, plaintiff Li-Rong Radich - a Chinese national with legal permanent residency status in the United States - was "attacked and savagely beaten, suffering two broken ribs, facial contusions, and possibly a broken orbital bone and eye socket," according to Manglona's ruling. The incident prompted Radich and her husband David, a U.S. citizen and Navy veteran, to apply for a weapons permit from the Northern Mariana Islands' department of public safety in 2013.

The commonwealth's weapons identification card application requires the applicant to state her reason for possessing a firearm, but "strongly recommend[s]" that she not use "family protection" as a reason, the ruling said. The cards are limited only to U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals who reside within the commonwealth, and cannot be issued to legal permanent residents.

Li-Rong became a legal permanent resident when she married David. After three years and no response to their application, the Second Amendment Foundation brought the suit on the couple's behalf.

"We got involved in this case because the violation was so egregious," foundation founder and executive vice president Alan Gottlieb said in statement. "The [commonwealth's] gun-control laws ban handguns or using any firearm for self-defense. That's unconstitutional, and Judge Manglona says so."

The commonwealth is governed under "a covenant to establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in political union with the United States of America," Manglona wrote.

She noted that several provisions of the U.S. Constitution are applicable to the commonwealth as if it were a U.S. state, including the Second Amendment and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment.

Arguments from both sides and the judge's ruling centered around the 2008 landmark decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, where the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Second Amendment right to self-defense using a handgun in Washington, which had a similar ban on handgun possession to the commonwealth's.

The defense argued that "handguns have never been kept or used for self-defense in the commonwealth, as distinct from the rest of the states and the Supreme Court's rational in Heller," according to Manglona's ruling.

Defense attorneys also maintained the writers of the covenant governing the commonwealth would have written clearer language on an exception to the U.S. Constitution had they known that the right to own a handgun for self defense would be upheld by the Second Amendment. Manglona disagreed, pointing to exceptions that the framers of the covenant had added regarding constitutional amendments like the right to a trial by jury and the right to indictment by a grand jury.

Manglona's decision also clarifies that legal permanent residents like Li-Rong are included in the 14th Amendment's definition of "person," and have the same right to bear arms as any U.S. citizen. She also declared the commonwealth's ban on imports of handguns and ammunition unconstitutional, since it is at odds with the Second Amendment and the Radiches "will not be able to obtain the handgun they have a right to possess."

Gottlieb lauded Manglona's ruling.

"It is another affirmation of the Second Amendment victories in Heller and McDonald, and will have a direct impact in the Ninth Circuit," Gottlieb said. "But we still must make sure that President Obama or Hillary Clinton do not stack our courts with anti-rights judges."

The Radiches are represented by Illinois-based attorney David Sigale, who has worked with the Second Amendment Foundation on other cases involving Second Amendment protections for non-citizens who are legal permanent U.S. residents.

Commonwealth representatives did not return emailed requests for comment by press time.

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