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County Council postpones taking action on proposed gun control measure until Oct. 18

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After two hours of discussion about a proposed new gun control policy that would restrict where firearms could be carried on the Big Island, the Hawai‘i County Council decided Tuesday the “sensitive places” listed were too broad and postponed taking action on the bill until Oct. 18 to allow for revisions.

Council Vice Chairman Aaron Chung introduced Bill 220 during Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s Parks and Recreation and Public Safety Committee. He said he was asked to do so by now retired Police Chief Paul Ferreira.

Bill 220 would add a new article to the county code that details “sensitive places” where carrying a licensed firearm, concealed or unconcealed, would be prohibited.

The measure outlines 10 categories of such sensitive places. They include: hospitals and medical facilities; schools and colleges; day care centers, playgrounds, parks and other places where children gather; churches; voter service centers; airports and public transit facilities and vehicles; government buildings, courthouses and judiciary buildings; private property open to the public; and bars, restaurants and other establishments that serve alcohol.

Hawai‘i County Council Vice Chairman Aaron Chung, center, speaks during Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s Parks and Recreation and Public Safety Committee. Councilman Tim Richards, at left, listens. (Screenshot from video)

A subsection in the proposed county code amendment would exempt private property where it is plainly posted that the public carry of firearms is allowed. It also would exempt law enforcement or private security officers when they are acting within the parameters of their employment.

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The bill also would prohibit carrying a firearm while intoxicated; mandate that a person licensed to carry must inform law enforcement, upon contact, if they are in possession of a firearm and present their license for inspection; and authorize the chief of police to revoke a firearm license for one year for any violation of the new article’s terms.

The committee heard testimony from multiple community members, including retired police officers, gun rights advocates and a worship leader, most of whom were opposed to the bill as written.

The measure comes on the heels of a US Supreme Court ruling earlier this year in a case about carrying firearms in public. The high court in June ruled that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense.

The ruling struck down a New York law that had been in place since 1913 that said to carry a concealed handgun in public, a person applying for a license had to show a specific need to carry the weapon. The law was challenged by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association and two men who sought to carry guns outside their homes without restrictions.

The high court’s 6-3 decision was its first major gun ruling in more than a decade, with conservative justices in the majority and the court’s liberal justices dissenting.

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In its ruling, the Supreme Court said there are places that have historically been viewed as “sensitive places” where gun restrictions could be put in place, specifically government buildings and schools. Most of the opposition to Bill 220, including from council members, was in regard to the list of proposed “sensitive places” it includes.

Chung said Monday that the places included in the bill are considered to be sensitive by the police department and the measure was vetted by county Corporation Counsel.

“I wanted to at least allow that laundry list of places that the police department felt should be included,” he said.

Chung said during Tuesday’s committee meeting that Corporation Counsel researched different jurisdictions throughout the nation, including Hawai‘i, and incorporated places into the bill that have been historically considered sensitive.

Deputy County Corporation Counsel Sylvia Wan, who did the research and worked with Ferreira to draft Bill 220, told council members that the idea was to work in concert with the Supreme Court’s decision while remaining true to the culture and customs of the state and the Big Island.

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While many of them agreed with the intent of the measure, a majority of council members, especially after hearing testimony from the public, thought the list of “sensitive places” needs to be paired down so it is not so broad.

Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder at one point said he was having a hard time trying to think of where firearms could be carried if Bill 220 were to be adopted as presented Tuesday.

Councilman Tim Richards and Council Chairman Maile David also saw issues with how the bill would restrict carrying firearms on private property open to the public.

Richards said the bill as written could restrict the carrying of guns by ranchers, farmers and even hunters on private property where they are allowed to be. Saddling private property owners with more regulations to have to post whether guns are allowed also concerns him.

David questioned how the restrictions would be enforced and how to guarantee the proposed new regulations would be followed.

Most council members at Tuesday’s meeting also agreed that people have a right to protect themselves and others around them, and that right should be maintained, especially with police resources being stretched thin in some areas.

A majority said slimming down the list would put the measure more in line with something they could support. Several council members also wanted to take additional time to read the Supreme Court’s ruling before making a decision.

Chung said Monday that he figured the bill would be a work in progress — that’s just the nature of how the council does business. He asked his colleagues Tuesday to offer their suggestions to whittle down the list of “sensitive places” and any other recommendations they might have to make the measure better.

Whatever Bill 220 ends up looking like, Chung said it must follow the Supreme Court’s decision while protecting public safety. The goal is to strike a fair balance between the two.

“Public safety is so important,” he told Big Island Now on Monday. “Given what’s happened in our nation recently with regard to gun violence … I think it would behoove us to at least take a look at how we can, as I said, strike a balance between the Supreme Court decision and protecting the public safety as much as we can within the parameters of that ruling.”

Chung reiterated during Tuesday’s meeting that Honolulu is circulating a similar measure that likely will be more restrictive than what Bill 220 proposes. The state Legislature also will likely take up the issue during its 2023 session.

“This is intended, really, to tide us over to provide some kind of public safety blanket until the Legislature can come up with something that’s going to cover the entire state,” he said Monday. “Then, after that, ours will probably go away.”

Chung said Tuesday that he thinks both sides of the gun control debate would appreciate the fact that the council is trying to deal with the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decision, which ultimately makes it easier for people to carry concealed weapons, and hopefully a piece of legislation can be drafted that will not just ensure public safety but also respect the court’s decision.

Acting Police Chief Kenneth Bugado Jr., front right, listens during Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s Parks and Recreation and Public Safety Committee. (Screenshot from video)

The Hawai‘i Police Department is also on board with Bill 220.

Acting Police Chief Kenneth Bugado Jr. told the council the “sensitive places” outlined in the measure were selected based on historical data and federal case law, as well as the risk officers in the public face with additional firearms on the streets due to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“The recent ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen recognized that states could regulate the carrying of firearms in sensitive places,” Bugado said in a statement sent Monday via email to Big Island Now. “There currently are no state statutes regulating where licensed firearms can be carried. The Hawai‘i Police Department is in support of this bill that is seeking to have sensitive places within our community defined.”

BIL 220 Draft 01 2020-2022 by Tiffany De Masters on Scribd

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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