East Hawaii News

Hawaii Lawmakers to Take Up Background Check Bill Friday

April 17, 2013, 4:47 PM HST
* Updated April 23, 10:52 AM
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Legislation to expand background checks for gun buyers fell by the wayside nationally today, but so far remains alive in Hawaii.

The US Senate voted 54-46 in favor of a bipartisan plan endorsed by President Obama to extend background checks to buyers at gun shows and internet sales. But because of a GOP-led filibuster, supporters needed to muster at least 60 votes for passage.

A bill in the Hawaii Legislature to require background checks for anyone registering a firearm has been approved in different forms by both the House and Senate, and is scheduled to go before a conference committee this week.

The head of the committee, whose job it will be to work out differences in the wording of the two versions, is Sen. Will Espero, chairman of the Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs.

That was the committee that in February amended Senate Bill 69 from its original form establishing a gun-buyback program to a vehicle for closing a loophole in state law.

Under Hawaii statutes, those registering a firearm purchased in the state are required to undergo the background checks, which include submitting fingerprints and being photographed.

However, while those who purchase a firearm from outside of Hawaii still must register it with their island’s police department, they are not required to submit to the background scrutiny.

State lawmakers today scheduled a conference committee meeting for 10:30 a.m. Friday. Members of the committee include two legislators from the Big Island, Sens. Gil Kahele and Josh Green.

Among the differences between the two versions of the bill are whether the fingerprints and photos will be required for those who already have them on file, and the date the bill would go into effect.

The bill has strong support from the state’s police departments, prosecutors and attorney general. It is opposed by the National Rifle Association and numerous individuals.

Meanwhile, Hawaii’s US senators – both of whom voted yes today – issued statements expressing disappointment at the outcome of today’s Senate vote.

Sen. Brian Schatz said he will continue to work toward expanding the background checks.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the Senate failed to pass measures to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the severely mentally ill,” Schatz said.

“My heart goes out to the victims of gun violence and their families who have worked tirelessly to get their elected leaders to support this commonsense reform,” he said. “While I support second amendment rights, I stand with President Obama and 90% of the American people in supporting criminal background checks in order to keep our children and loved ones safe.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono agreed with her Senate colleague.

“I’m very disappointed that – even in the wake of the Newtown tragedy – basic improvements to our background check system and gun trafficking laws failed to obtain the votes needed to move forward in the Senate,” Hirono said.

“This fight is not over. I know that the people of Hawaii and the rest of our nation want stronger gun safety laws. I hope we listen in the coming days as they make their voices heard.”

CNN reported that four Republicans voted to support the legislation, while four Democrats from pro-gun states sided with most Republicans in opposition.

In a statement issued today, Obama said the bill represented “moderation and common sense” that was supported by 90% of the American people.

Obama said in the end it “came down to politics” – the worry that the vocal minority of gun owners would come after those voting in favor of the bill in future elections.

“All in all, today was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” Obama said.

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