East Hawaii News

Bill Removing Background Check Loophole Moving Through House

March 29, 2013, 6:54 PM HST
* Updated March 29, 6:56 PM
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The state House of Representative is poised to approve a bill that would require background checks for owners of guns brought into Hawaii.

The House Committee on Finance voted unanimously Thursday in favor of Senate Bill 69. The committee was the third in the House to approve the measure.

The Senate has already approved a version of the bill.

Under state law, all firearms purchased in Hawaii must be registered at county police departments and their owners must be photographed and fingerprinted and undergo a background check.

However, while registration is also mandatory for firearms brought into the state, a background check is not required, a loophole that the bill is designed to erase.

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The bill’s authors were concerned that a Hawaii resident who might be prohibited from owning a gun in Hawaii could become a registered owner by acquiring it in a state where a permit process or extensive background check may not be required.

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According to an annual report issued earlier this month by Hawaii Attorney General David Louie, nearly half of the firearms registered in Hawaii in 2012 were imported from out of state.

In its current form, the bill would waive the fingerprinting and photographing requirement if they are already on file with the police department.

The bill has the support of all of the county police departments, the state attorney general as well as county prosecutors.

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The National Rifle Association is strongly opposed to the measure and has issued alerts on the website of its lobbying arm, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, calling for the lobbying of Hawaii lawmakers to vote against the bill.

The Legislature has received testimony from several hundred individuals opposed to the measure.

The NRA has also given a campaign contribution to Rep. Bob McDermott, a Republican representing the Ewa area of Oahu and the only member of a House committee to vote against the bill. State campaign spending records show that McDermott received $250 in October from the NRA Political Victory Fund.

However, the Hawaii Rifle Association, which is described as a “state affiliate” of the NRA, has submitted testimony in support of the bill.

The number of firearms registered in Hawaii has risen dramatically since 2007.

The report from the attorney general said gun registrations statewide have set new records in each of the past four years.

The report said 21,864 registration applications were received in 2012 involving a total of 50,394 firearms. That was up from 15,375 applications for 36,804 firearms from the year before.

In 2000, the first year such statistics were compiled, 6,489 applications were filed for a total of 13,617 guns.

Of the firearms registered in Hawaii last year, 19,483, or 39%, were handguns.

There were 3,881 registration applications processed on the Big Island in 2012. Those applications were for a total of 10,134 firearms, 5,272 of which were imported from outside Hawaii.

The Big Island had a disproportionally high number of applications, the report said. Based on population distribution it had 29% more applications than would be expected, the highest such rate among the four main counties.

Although the number of registration applications has risen dramatically over the past four years, the number of firearm-related violent acts has actually decreased over that period compared to previous years, the report said.

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