David Radich, a retired Navy Petty Officer, and veteran of the first Iraq war, settled down in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in the Western Pacific after separating from the service. Unfortunately, he came home one day in 2010 to find his wife seriously injured after a violent attack. He told his story to Stars and Stripes:
“I found my wife on the floor of the apartment in really bad shape,” Radich said. “Her face was unrecognizable.”
The attacker had broken into their home as Li-Rong was making breakfast, then began beating her and demanding money but ran out after she began screaming loudly, Radich said. She suffered broken ribs, an orbital fracture, bruises to the face and a concussion.
‘It’s an equalizer’
Radich said he began thinking about getting a handgun for his wife.
“The guy who came into my house was about 6 foot, maybe 200 pounds,” he said. “My wife is about 4-foot-11 and weighs about 100 pounds.
“I thought, well, it’s an equalizer. If my wife had had the ability to deter a crime …,” Radich paused. “Most people who defend themselves with a firearm never actually fire it. It’s the presence of the gun in the hand of the would-be victim that usually deters the crime from happening.”
Unfortunately, he found himself stymied by the Commonwealth’s gun laws.
Most Americans would be hard-pressed to find the Commonwealth Northern Mariana Islands on a map, and just as many would probably not realize that it’s a territory of the United States that’s been under American rule since the Second World War. (Ever hear of the Battle of Saipan? Saipan is the most populous of the Mariana Islands.)
The residents of the islands are American citizens, just as with Puerto Rico. And also just as with Puerto Rico, the Mariana Islands have some rather strict anti-gun laws. Not only is a firearms ID card require just to purchase a gun, and only rifles capable of firing .22 caliber rimfire, .410 gauge shotguns, and (for those lucky enough to get a ‘special weapons card’) .223 caliber rifles appear to be allowed. It’s a veritable gun-banners’ paradise.
Naturally, violent crime seems to be undeterred by such gun control laws.
Aided by the Second Amendment Foundation, Radich filed suit against the Commonwealth in Federal Court, arguing that the Commonwealth’s outright bans were a violation of his second amendment rights. The case was dismissed on technical grounds earlier in March, but the Court has allowed Radich to file an amended complaint, which is expected to be filed.
With precedents such as Heller already existing, one would think this would be a fairly straightforward case. However, even though the Islanders are all U.S. Citizens, there are a series of decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1901 that may throw a monkey wrench into the Radich’s case: The Insular Cases. The cases, which adjudicated a series of issues that came about during America’s foray into formal imperialism after the Spanish-American War and acquired a series of island colonies from Puerto Rico to the Philippines.
We needn’t get into the weeds there, but the cases established the proposition that inhabitants of ‘unincorporated territories’ (i.e., the islands conquered by American arms and ruled as colonies,) “even if they are U.S. citizens,” may lack some constitutional rights possessed by other Americans. Even though these new territories were American territory, they were not part of the United States. In short: the Constitution does not necessarily follow the flag.
The debate around imperialism and annexation of the territories (and by extension, the arguments from which the Insular Cases flowed,) was conducted in terms that would have been beyond the pale today, such as:
* The idea that democracy and imperialism are compatible;
* People are not created equal – certain ethnic groups may be superior to others;
* It is the burden of these superior peoples (the “White Man’s Burden”, if you will,) to raise those backward people up to civilization.
I do not know the basis on which the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands will try to defend its gun ban. It will be interesting to see whether or not they will be willing to hang their argument on these outdated cases from 19th century racist imperialism, and whether or not the Federal Court for the Northern Mariana Islands — and the 9th Circuit above it — will allow them to do so.