Hawaii’s gun laws among nation’s strictest


As national debate and focus on gun control grows in the wake of recent violent shooting incidents, Hawaii, with some of the nation’s toughest gun-related laws, keeps a tight rein on gun ownership, registration, transportation and use.

Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth said gun crime levels in the state are relatively low, and it has a hunting culture that is “pretty respectful” when it comes to using guns.

“When you compare our gun laws to federal gun laws, they’re very similar,” Roth added.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence ranks Hawaii’s gun laws as sixth-best in the country.

Hawaii residents cannot purchase a firearm without first getting a permit to acquire the gun, Hawaii Police Department Lt. Randal Ishii said. People apply for those permits through the police department, and the department first checks local, state and national databases to see if the applicant has been convicted of a felony or a violent crime, including misdemeanor assaults or domestic violence charges. If the person has been diagnosed with an addiction to drugs or alcohol or with a mental health disorder, a doctor’s clearance is required before the department may issue the permit, as well.

Permits for long guns allow the permit holder to buy as many of those guns as he chooses, Ishii said. Long gun “permits to acquire” must be renewed annually. Permits for handguns are issued for one specific handgun at a time, and the permit is good for just 10 days. Once someone buys a gun, he must register it within five days, Ishii said.

The police department keeps the gun registration information, and, according to a 2007 ruling by the state’s Office of Information Practices, that information is not considered to be a public record. Ishii said police officers have access to the information even when on patrol, using laptops in their vehicles, and dispatchers will routinely check to see if a person police officers are looking for or whose house officers are visiting has any registered guns.

People who are purchasing handguns must also complete a hunter safety and education course, Ishii said.

Prohibited guns, according to state law, are assault pistols, fully automatic firearms, rifles with barrel lengths less than 16 inches; shotguns with barrel lengths less than 18 inches; cannons; mufflers, silencers or devices for deadening or muffling the sound of discharged firearms; hand grenades, dynamite, blasting caps, bombs or bombshells, or other explosives; or any type of ammunition or any projectile component coated with Teflon or any other similar coating designed primarily to enhance its capability to penetrate metal or pierce protective armor; and any type of ammunition or any projectile component thereof designed or intended to explode or segment upon impact with its target. Converting a firearm to an automatic firearm is a crime. Ammunition magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds for a pistol are also prohibited.

Even if someone legally acquires and registers a gun, he can’t just carry it or even drive around with it in his vehicle, Roth said. Hawaii law says each county’s police chief may set the rules to issue a “permit to carry” a weapon, and the chiefs may issue those permits. Hawaii County Police Chief Harry Kubojiri was out of the office Friday. Roth and Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida were not certain how many, if any, permits had ever been issued in Hawaii County.

A federal appeals court in Illinois struck down that state’s ban on carrying concealed weapons earlier this month.

“I’m actually reviewing that,” Roth said. “That may cause us (in Hawaii) some issues.”

Here, legally permitted gun owners may transport their firearms from home to a shooting range or hunting area, and not many other places, Roth said. Guns cannot be in a vehicle without being secured inside a box, and the gun may not be loaded while it is in a vehicle. Roth said state law allows law enforcement officers to seize any vehicle in which a loaded gun is located, and that’s the only instance he could think of in which a vehicle could be immediately forfeited for a crime.

Ammunition must also be secured during transport, Roth said.

Former North Kona Councilman Curtis Tyler, who is a proponent of a planned West Hawaii shooting range, said he hasn’t researched every state’s gun laws, but has heard that Hawaii’s are relatively strict.

“They’re probably more restrictive than they need to be,” Tyler said, adding he would like to see the state allow more people to carry weapons. People, especially women, have been injured or killed and “they had no way to protect themselves.”

Tyler once talked to a county police chief about the lack of concealed carry permits.

“I was told they basically don’t issue any because the police have guns” and that should be enough, he said. “This is an issue of public safety and self defense. People are entitled to carry. It’s protected by the Constitution.”