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Council Supports Resolution Condemning Gun Violence, Urges Action

By Nathan Christophel
June 16, 2022, 1:40 PM HST
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These signs were seen during a demonstration organized by Teens For Gun Reform, an organization created by students in the Washington, D.C., area, in the wake of the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (Photo by Lorie Shaull/Wikimedia Commons)

Some members became visibly emotional during discussion — all agreed action is necessary.

The Hawai‘i County Council on Wednesday, June 15, during its regular meeting approved Resolution 440, condemning gun violence and supporting stronger gun laws in the United States. The measure was introduced by Councilwoman Heather Kimball and passed 8-0, with council member Aaron Chung absent at the time of the vote.

Heather Kimball

Kimball, who fought back tears during discussion about the resolution, was devastated by the thought of the 26 people — 20 of them 6- and 7-year-old children — who were killed in 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. She hoped legislators at that time would act.

Then in 2018, she thought for sure something would change with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., advocating for action on gun safety and violence after 17 people were killed in a mass shooting there.

Now, just weeks after 19 children and two adults were killed by an 18-year-old gunman at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Kimball wanted to take a stand and she now serves in a capacity where she can, which led to her introducing Resolution 440.

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“Something’s got to happen this time,” she told her fellow council members Wednesday.

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The resolution proclaims the council’s support for gun safety measures such as a national background check mandate, a national red flag law, a national age limit of 21 or older for gun purchases, restricting the sale of assault rifles and high capacity magazines and a national prohibition on gun purchases by people recently charged with drug and alcohol crimes, domestic violence or terroristic threatening.

“The Hawai‘i County Council strongly encourages the United States Congress to establish gun safety measures that help ensure tragedies such as the Robb Elementary School shooting do not continue to occur,” the measure says.

“I know that all of you are as horrified and as grief-stricken about this as I am,” Kimball said.

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A testifier during Wednesday’s meeting said there are more guns than people in this country — 123 guns per 100 people, she said.

“How is that even reasonable?” Kimball asked.

When she wrote the resolution a couple of weeks ago, the Uvalde shooting was the 134th of the year. As of Wednesday morning, after Kimball checked the statistics prior to the council meeting, there had been 267 mass shootings so far this year in the United States.

“Gun safety laws protect people. They are reasonable,” she said. “The most overlooked language in the Constitution are under the Second Amendment where it says well-regulated. It is time that we put the safety of children ahead of the profits of gun manufacturers.”

Kimball said gun safety measures being proposed are supported by the majority of Americans, including a majority of lawful, careful gun owners.

There is a group of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans in the U.S. Senate who announced an agreement last weekend for framework of proposals to curb gun violence in the wake of the Uvalde massacre and another recent mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y. However, according to an ABC News story Thursday, despite the group wanting to turn the list of proposals into a measure ready for consideration by next week, negotiations have gotten tied up because of two provisions, one focused on giving states incentives to implement gun violence prevention programs and another dealing with closing a so-called “boyfriend loophole.”

“I’m asking for you to support (Resolution 440) today to encourage our congressional delegation and the members of Congress to actually take action and not just offer thoughts and prayers and provide this country with some reasonable gun laws,” Kimball said.

Her request did not fall on deaf ears.

Hawai‘i County Mayor Mitch Roth on May 27 stands near 21 chairs laid out with lei wrapped around them outside the county building in Hilo. The seats represented the lives lost in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two adults at t Robb Elementary School. “As a parent, I cannot imagine the loss of my children. My heart aches for the families and loved ones of those students and their brave teacher. Regardless what county, what state — we must stand together against violence,” Roth said in a post with this photo and other pictures attached on his Facebook page.

Chung isn’t sure how much of an effect the resolution will have in the grander scheme of the issue, “but at least it allows us to discuss this matter.”

“It’s rather cathartic, even if we don’t say anything, just to be able to voice our opinions on this very, very grave state of affairs that we have in the United States,” he said. “The problem I see is that you have the two extremes, the far-right and the far-left, and for some reason they’re all melding in this kind of weird dance for more rights, while the people in the middle, and Ms. Kimble kind of touched upon it, but the greater community, their voice isn’t being heard. They’re marginalized for some strange reason.”

He thinks everyone is simply asking for sensible gun laws.

“And how difficult can that be, really?” Chung asked.

But people cannot agree.

“We’ve lost sensibility because the two extreme sides of our country are dominating the conversation and marginalizing the people in the middle,” Chung said.

Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy referred to Kimball sharing some statistics and wanted to share some number of her own.

“The numbers I have to share are 13, 62, 141 and 1,560,” Lee Loy said. “Just in 2021, 13 soldiers died in action, 62 police officers, 141 firefighters — just in 2021, 1,560 children under the age of 18. I whole-heartedly support this resolution.”

Council member Tim Richards agreed with Chung that the left and right wings of the political spectrum have marginalized centrists and the vast majority of the population, and that’s wrong.

“Thank you, Ms. Kimball, for bringing (the resolution) because it makes sense. It just makes common sense,” Richards said.

“As a father, I mean I could not imagine getting a phone call like what we’ve seen in the past in different areas in our country,” Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said. “If you put yourself in the shoes of the parents who’ve lost their children due to inadequate gun laws, or whatever it may be, I think as a parent, that just changes your whole mind frame.”

“No more thoughts and prayers. Let’s make legislation, let’s make change and let’s make it now.”

Hawai‘i County Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas

Council member Holeka Inaba, an educator himself, also became emotional while speaking during discussion on Resolution 440.

“I wasn’t going to say anything, but now I think about my time in the classroom, that I still spend, and when we see those things in the news, and as educators you know what your kuleana is. It’s not only to educate, but to protect. And you know what you need to do,” Inaba said. “I don’t think anybody could have said better than what council member Chung said. We need to just wake up and be sensible. There’s no benefit, there’s no forward movement, there’s no progress with these two heavily opposed perspectives.”

Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas echoed the sentiments of her colleagues.

She said her father suffered from serious mental health issues and was able to get an HK semi-automatic machine gun, which he proceeded to teach her how to use at very young age.

“And it wasn’t necessary,” Villegas said, adding it wasn’t because of positive, conscious, pro-active purpose. “It was based on fear and judgement and reactivity. I’m grateful no one in my family was ever hurt by that gun, and I hope that no child ever has to go through that.”

She’s also grateful for the resolution not only for the opportunity to support any potential national legislation that would eliminate any and all chances of children being tormented and traumatized in spaces intended for education and put safety measures in place so parents with questionable mental health capacity cannot get weapons that could harm their families.

“Thank you for this,” Villegas told Kimball. “It hits home, I think, with all of us in so many ways.”

She agreed now is the time to act.

“No more thoughts and prayers,” Villegas said. “Let’s make legislation, let’s make change and let’s make it now.”

Council Chairwoman Maile David said she doesn’t think something like what happened in Uvalde has every happened in Big Island communities. But it scares her that it’s gotten closer to home.

“It’s not something that you just see in the news, but it is here,” David said. “And that is what is very concerning.”

She said even if the resolution is just an encouragement to the powers that be, she supports it whole-heartedly.

“I really want to send this council’s condolences to all of the parents and the families that have lost people to this sad and tragic situation,” David said.

County Managing Director Lee Lord also addressed the council during Wednesday’s meeting, offering support of the resolution from himself and Mayor Mitch Roth’s administration.

“Mayor Roth wanted me to be here to point out that we do condemn gun violence and support the strengthening of gun laws in the United States of America,” Lord said. “And the administration also encourages the United States Congress to establish gun safety measures to reduce the number of mass shootings and gun-related deaths occurring nationwide. … We do know you all support it, and thank you for doing this Councilwoman Kimball.”

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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