Guns in Paradise: Ruling Could Override Strict Hawaii Port Law

Kainoa Kaku, president of the Hawaii Rifle Association, checks one of his personal firearms as he discusses the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling at his home June 23 in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER, Associated Press

HONOLULU — Megan Kau takes occasional week-long hunting trips to the Hawaiian island of Lanai, where she enjoys watching the sunrise and hearing the distant rustle of deer and bighorn sheep in the tropical wilderness, a rifle at the ready. sides.

As a gun owner, she also visits shooting ranges several times a year. These outings are the only times the lawyer and Oahu native see others with guns in this tourist mecca where strict laws make it harder to buy guns and restrict carry loaded guns in public.

Last week’s US Supreme Court ruling striking down New York’s concealed weapons law will likely change things in Hawaii as well, where it’s now highly unusual to see people carrying loaded guns in public.

Some say the change will lead to more gun violence in a state that traditionally sees very little of it. In 2020, Hawaii had the lowest firearm death rate in the country, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are culturally accepting, we are racially accepting, Kau said. “But in our culture, we are fighters. We have the passion.

This passion can turn into physical altercations usually done “up and down” – the local lingo for brawls.

“If you were born and raised here, you get into a fight, you don’t expect there to be a gun,” Kau said.

Chris Marvin, a Hawaii resident with the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, said road rage dusts, fights at surf spots and other confrontations are a part of life in Hawaii and are rarely fatal. He is afraid that will change.

“When you bring guns in, it’s so often immediate death,” he said. “Guns and aloha don’t mix.”

Under current law, Hawaii County police chiefs have the discretion to determine whether to issue a transport permit. Without such a permit, Hawaiians are only permitted to keep firearms at home and may transport them – unloaded and locked up – to shooting ranges, hunting areas and other restricted locations, as for repairs.

The Supreme Court ruling says local governments cannot require those applying for a license to carry a gun in public to demonstrate a special need, such as a direct threat to their safety. Hawaii and California are among the states that have such a requirement.

Hawaii police chiefs have issued just four carry permits in the past 22 years, said attorney Alan Beck, who represents George Young, a Big Island man who is suing to be able to carry a firearm. fire to defend themselves.

“It’s a huge deal,” Beck said of the decision. “Not only does this mean Mr. Young’s case will prevail, but it also means the door has been opened to challenge many aspects of Hawaii’s gun law.”

State officials were determining what effect the court’s decision might have on Hawaii, Gov. David Ige said. However, some believe they know the end result.

“Bottom line, Hawaii is about to become a more dangerous place,” said state senator Karl Rhoads. “Hawaii will go from a place where the right to wear in public is the exception to a place where not being allowed to wear on the street is an exception.”

The High Court ruling allows local governments to impose certain rules limiting who can have carry permits and where guns can be banned, such as parks, stadiums and other places where people gather.

Hawaiian lawmakers will consider adding additional background checks, training stipulations and legislative ways to keep guns out of certain public spaces, State Sen. Chris Lee said.

There are already firearms training requirements to get a gun, “but carrying something in a public place is a whole different matter,” Lee said, so he’d like to see mandatory training on how to get a gun. to defuse conflict and improved training. for law enforcement in dealing with situations where people are armed.

He would also like to see restrictions on bringing firearms into public meetings on emotionally charged issues.

Denise Eby Konan, dean of the College of Social Sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a member of the state’s Gun Violence and Violent Crimes Commission, said guns in public places like beaches and hiking trails could affect Hawaii’s reputation as a safe tourist destination. .

“I think a lot of our visitors come from countries that have pretty strict gun laws,” she said.

At least one couple visiting Waikiki on Thursday said looser restrictions would not deter them from returning.

Rebecca Donahue said she and her husband concealed transportation permits where they lived in Titusville, Florida. “I think Hawaii is very laid back and relaxed from what we’ve seen,” she said.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority declined to comment on the court’s decision and any possible impact on tourism, the economic engine that drives the state’s economy.

Kainoa Kaku, president of the Hawaii Rifle Association, said the decision would help ensure that law-abiding people can carry guns – “guys like me who put a lot of time and effort into training and to perfecting my art so that I can defend myself and my family and even my community as a whole if necessary.

Joseph Robello, who uses a gun and rifle to hunt hogs, said he didn’t expect Hawaii to turn into the Wild West.

“Most people won’t just carry it around, wear it on their hip, and walk around the store and say, ‘I have a gun and I can use it,'” he said. he declares. “That’s stupid. Ridiculous.”

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Freelance journalist Marco Garcia contributed to this report.

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