East Hawaii News

Loophole on Gun Owner Background Checks Under Scrutiny

March 6, 2013, 6:04 PM HST
* Updated March 6, 6:10 PM
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One doesn’t have to look to the national stage for discussions of gun control.

Hawaii lawmakers are considering a bill that would close a loophole in state law on the subject of background checks.

Currently, anyone looking to acquire a gun in Hawaii must first obtain a permit through a process which includes a background check.

But the law treats those bringing in a gun from out of state differently. While they still must register the firearm, a background check is not required.

Draft 2 of Senate Bill 69 would close that loophole by requiring the background check be conducted at the time of registration.

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“This will enable county police departments to determine if the person registering a firearm is prohibited from possessing a firearm in this state,” state Attorney General David Louie said in testimony submitted to the Senate.

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When it was first introduced the bill did not address background checks but called for an appropriation of $100,000 for the state’s police departments to institute a gun buy-back program.

The bill’s original draft said that between 2000 and 2011, the number of permit applications for firearms in Hawaii grew by 136%, with more than 15,000 permit applications processed in 2011 alone.

The bill said that the attorney general’s office estimates that there are at least one million guns among Hawaii’s 1.36 million residents.

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The bill noted that gun violence is not just a national issue, citing the Jan. 2 shooting incident involving two police officers in Hilo.

Since then, four men have been charged with murder in gun-related incidents that have occurred over the past several months in East Hawaii, including a double murder in mid-February.

The provision to require background checks using the National Instant Check System was inserted into the bill early last month by the Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs.

President Obama’s administration has been pushing for expansion of background checks to those who purchase firearms from private owners and guns shows, which it says accounts for nearly 40% of all gun sales.

Bill 69 was further amended last month to increase the funding to $200,000 for police departments for buy-back and gun-safety programs.

The Hawaii bill has the support of all four of the state’s police departments as well as county prosecuting attorneys.

It is opposed by the National Rifle Association which said it supports the use of the NICS but not for checks for “people who have already legally acquired a firearm.”

“This bill presents no viable solutions that would make improvements to Hawaii, but instead attacks law abiding citizens who are choosing to exercise a right to own a firearm,” the NRA testimony said.

The group also said gun buy-back programs are ineffective and called them “a waste of tax payer dollars.”

Several hundred individuals opposed to the bill also submitted testimony, much of which mirrored the concerns expressed by the NRA.

The bill passed third reading in the Senate on Tuesday with 21 votes in favor, including ayes “with reservations” from Sen. Malama Solomon and Sen. Brian Taniguchi. Voting against the bill were Sens. Gilbert Keith-Agaran of Maui, and Michelle Kidani and Sam Slom of Oahu.

The bill will next be taken up by the House of Representatives.

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