An increase in firearm permits issued and firearms registered this year may be the result of the coronavirus and the upcoming national election, the Honolulu police chief said.
The Honolulu Police Department said there were 10,485 annual firearms permits issued on the island through September, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Thursday.
The figure represented a nearly 40% increase from last year, when there were 7,566 permits issued through September.
The department also reported 21,214 firearms were registered through September, up from 18,672 through September of last year, an increase of about 14%.
If those rates persist, more than 14,000 firearm permits would be issued and nearly 28,400 firearms would be registered on Oahu by the end of 2020.
Chief Susan Ballard told the Honolulu Police Commission Wednesday that fear resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and reactions to the Nov. 3 election are likely factors.
“It could be because the whole COVID thing is scaring people,” Ballard said. "And then we also see that every time there’s a possibility of a Democratic president, we see a huge increase in people trying to purchase firearms."
Data from the U.S. Attorney General’s office did not show a spike in firearm registrations when President Barack Obama was first elected in 2008, but there was a general increase throughout Obama’s eight-year tenure.
Firearm registrations tapered off after President Donald Trump’s term began in 2016.
Kainoa Kaku, president and director of the Hawaii Rifle Association, said guns were sought in larger numbers during the initial COVID-19 outbreak because people scrambled for supplies.
"We see this every hurricane season: No one prepares, and suddenly there’s hourlong lines at Costco, and everyone’s scattering to get what are essential things to survive,” Kaku said.
At the outset of the pandemic “there was also a huge interest in purchasing firearms to protect all the things you’re buying to live,” Kaku said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.