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County Council passes first reading of gun bill with a few amendments

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A portion of the handgun selection on display Oct. 27 at S. Tokunaga Store in Hilo. File photo by Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now.

The Hawaiʻi County Council spent nearly three hours Wednesday hearing additional testimony from both sides of the gun control debate and discussing amendment after amendment to the second draft of Bill 220.

The bill details the proposed “sensitive places” where carrying a licensed firearm, concealed or not, would be prohibited on the Big Island.

After making five changes to the second draft, the County Council passed it by a vote of 7 to 1, with Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder voting no and Vice Chairman Aaron Chung absent at the time of the vote.

Council members will consider the second and final reading of Bill 220 at their next regular session on Nov. 16.

Draft two of Bill 220 included several amendments approved by the Council last month at the committee level.

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After discussion and debate, the bill now proposes the following as “sensitive places:”

  • Hospitals, medical facilities, medical offices and/or medical clinics, except where permission is granted by the administrator of the facility.
  • Schools, colleges, universities and/or places where people are assembled for educational purposes, except where permission is granted by the institution.
  • Day care centers, playgrounds and parks, except where permission is granted by the administrator of the facility.
  • Churches or religious assemblies, except where permission is granted by the administrator of the church, facility or congregation.
  • Voter service centers or places of deposit.
  • Government buildings and the accompanying parking lots attached to such buildings, except when the licensed firearm is kept in the vehicle unloaded with an affixed trigger lock or in a locked case.
  • Private property open to the public where it is conspicuously posted that public carry of firearms is not allowed.
  • Public transit facilities and public transit vehicles.
  • Bars, restaurants and establishments that serve intoxicating beverages.

The amendments that County Council Vice Chairman Aaron Chung proposed Wednesday and were approved:

  • removed from day care centers, playgrounds and parks the clause “and/or other places where children gather”
  • added to hospitals, medical facilities, medical offices and/or medical clinics the clause “except where permission is granted by the administrator of the facility”
  • added to government buildings the clause “and the accompanying parking lots attached to such buildings except when the licensed firearm is kept in the vehicle unloaded with an affixed trigger lock or in a locked case”

“Basically, this is restrictive but it will allow people with licensed guns to enter various facilities,” Chung said.

Councilwoman Heather Kimball proposed adding back transit facilities and public transit vehicles as well as bars, restaurants and establishments that serve intoxicating beverages as “sensitive places.” Both were in the original version of the bill.

Kimball supported the bill as it originally was written. She proposed several other amendments that would have changed language in the measure back to its original version, but they were shot down by the Council.

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Exempt from the “sensitive places” are private security officers, when acting in their official capacity of their scope of employment, law enforcement officers and anyone authorized to carry a firearm under the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004.

Other parts of the bill remained unchanged from the original version, including prohibiting carrying a firearm while intoxicated; mandating 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 authorizing the chief of police to revoke a firearm license for one year for any violation of the new article’s terms.

Bill 220 comes on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down a New York gun law that required people to demonstrate a specific need for carrying a handgun in public in order to get a concealed carry license. Hawai‘i is one of six other states with similar laws.

The decision already has led to a spike of concealed carry permit applications on the Big Island.

The high court said there are places that have historically been viewed as “sensitive places,” where gun restrictions could be put in place, such as government buildings and schools. Most of the discussion and opposition to Bill 220 has been based on the places where carrying a firearm would be prohibited.

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Hawai‘i County Corporation Counsel Elizabeth Strance told Council members on Wednesday that the Supreme Court did not say it was going to attempt to limit those “sensitive places.” Jurisdictions have the right to limit where firearms can be carried as long as there is historical context.

“Without any legislation, people who are issued licenses to carry can carry them any place,” Stance told the Council.

Currently, there are no Hawai‘i statutes that regulate where licensed firearms can be carried. If Bill 220 passes its second and final reading, it would be the first of its kind in the state.

Kimball said rates of successful suicides are higher when guns are present. Rates of domestic violence becoming lethal also are increased when guns are involved. There’s little evidence that a “good guy” with a gun takes care of a “bad guy” with a gun.

She said no matter what, where Council members agree is that they want to protect the health and safety of the Big Island community.

“The Second Amendment doesn’t supersede all of the rest of the Constitution and all of the other amendments,” Kimball said. “We are balancing personal freedoms, property rights and the Second Amendment.”

Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz said she appreciates Bill 220 as a stopgap measure until the Hawai‘i State Legislature can take up the concealed carry issue, which most Council members think is likely during its next session, which will begin in January 2023.

The measure also has a supremacy clause, saying any federal or state statutes that conflict with it would take precedence. Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy said that clause essentially will force the legislature to take up the issue.

“Even though this bill is intended to establish a law that applies to our county at this time until the state does implement some sort of legislation, it is also fundamentally gonna be a signal to the Legislature about what our county is willing to accept,” Kimball said.

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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