Hawai’i’s firearms law was declared unconstitutional by a federal appeals court last year. That ruling is currently being appealed. But there could be change no matter what the final outcome in federal court.
The 9th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of plaintiff George K. Young, Jr. of Hilo. Young argued that Hawai’i’s law is too restrictive because it prevents law-abiding citizens from carrying a firearm for self-defense. In other words, the right to open carry outside your home. State Senator Karl Rhoads is chair of the Judiciary Committee.
“Current law does allow for open carry but has been interpreted very narrowly. Narrowly in the sense that they don’t give it to very many people. You really have to demonstrate a serious need to have a weapon. But, I don’t know if the law itself needs to be changed, it’s just the interpretation that might change because of the litigation.”
Police chiefs in Hawai’i’s four counties issue firearm licenses for “open carry.” But, Attorney Alan Beck, who represented Young at the 9th Circuit and won, told HPR via telephone that Hawai’i’s current law is too restrictive.
“I strongly believe the law will go away in one shape or form in the next couple of years. You can’t have a situation where one government official has complete, unbridled discretion on how to issue. And, in the case of the Big Island, it used that discretion to not issue. And, at a bare minimum, they’ll have to start issuing some.”
State Representative Chris Lee, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, says the state’s firearms law requires a balance.
“I think there is gonna be legislation from some of our colleagues and some from outside groups that are gonna look at what we can do to prevent gun violence. I think it’s important for us to make sure we balance and protect the rights given people by the 2nd Amendment but also ensure that we ultimately do what we can in Hawai’i to protect our citizens and to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands.”
Twelve Senate and 5 House bills have been introduced this session relating to firearms. Senator Rhoads says there’s a chance more licenses will be issued in the future but he would like Hawai’i’s current process upheld.
“The open carry states are ones where everybody gets shot so I think we have a very good record in Hawai’i for gun safety protection and and the fourth lowest gun violence in any state in the union. It’s a combination of things but one of most important parts of it is that we have strict gun laws.”
Representative Lee says it could be years before the Young case is settled but the top priority for Hawai’i lawmakers is public safety.
“I’ve owned guns in the past; I don’t today but we have an obligation on our part in Hawai’i to make sure that we have the adequate legal protections in place to make sure that it’s not gonna be the wild, wild west and guns fall into the hands of criminals where they can just walk around wherever they want.”
For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.