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Hawaiʻi County Council passes first law in state regulating where firearms can be carried

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Hawai‘i County is the first in the state and one of the first municipalities in the nation to pass legislation regulating where licensed firearms can be carried with a valid permit.

After weeks of work and hours of discussion and testimony, the Hawai‘i County Council on Wednesday adopted Bill 220, detailing several “sensitive places” where carrying a licensed firearm, concealed or not, will be prohibited on the Big Island.

The bill now goes to Mayor Mitch Roth for his consideration.

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

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. The Supreme Court also did not say it would attempt to limit those places; jurisdictions have the right to limit where firearms can be carried as long as there is historical context.

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This is why Hawai’i County has passed the new law that specifies its “sensitive places” where anybody who has a license to carry still cannot carry a firearm. Those “sensitive places” are:

  • Hospitals, medical facilities, medical offices and/or medical clinics, except where permission is granted to such a person by the administrator of the facility.
  • Schools, colleges, universities and/or places where people are assembled for educational purposes, except where permission is granted to such a person by the institution.
  • Day care centers, playgrounds and parks, except where permission is granted to such a person 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.
  • Places where people are assembled for an event, social gathering, rally, demonstration or public exhibition where it is conspicuously posted by the organizers that public carry of firearms is not allowed.

The two final amendments to the bill approved Wednesday were proposed by Councilwoman Heather Kimball, a staunch supporter of the original version of the bill that had more restrictions. Those amendments:

Heather Kimball
  • Added “to such a person” to the first three categories of “sensitive places” where permission to carry a firearm needs to be granted to clarify that the permission would be given to an individual.
  • Returned to the list of “sensitive places” the places where people are assembled for an event, social gathering, rally, demonstration or public exhibition and added “where it is conspicuously posted by the organizers that public carry of firearms is not allowed.”

A third amendment proposed by Kimball did not pass. It had attempted to align the private property open to the public listed in the “sensitive places” with places of public accommodation defined in County code and change language back to where public carry of firearms at such places would not be allowed unless it is posted.

Several amendments were made to measure during the Council’s Nov. 2 meeting as well.

Exempt from the law 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.

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The law also prohibits carrying a firearm while intoxicated; mandates 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 authorizes the chief of police to revoke a firearm license for one year for any violation of the new article’s terms.

“This isn’t about one civil liberty that’s guaranteed by the Constitution overriding other civil liberties that are guaranteed by the Constitution, it’s finding that balance,” Kimball said.

Aaron Chung

The measure also has a supremacy clause, saying any federal or state statute that conflicts with it would take precedence. There currently are no other laws or Hawai‘i state statutes that regulate where licensed firearms can be carried in public.

Kimball said the bill is a stopgap measure until the Hawai‘i Legislature introduces its own, which seems likely. In the event the Legislature doesn’t take up the issue or leaves it up to each of the state’s four counties, Hawai‘i County will already have a law in place.

The City and County of Honolulu already is working on a measure of its own and there is interest in Kaua‘i and Maui counties to develop their own bills.

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Hawai’i County Council Vice Chairman Aaron Chung, who introduced Bill 220, said the Supreme Court’s decision required action by the Council.

He said a lot of things have changed since the Bill of Rights — the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution — was ratified Dec. 15, 1791, by three-fourths of state legislatures in the nation. Chung said the right to bear arms cannot be divorced from the preceding sentence in the Second Amendment about a well-regulated militia; everybody’s talking about the militia, but what Bill 220 focuses on is regulation.

“It shouldn’t be an unfettered right to carry guns, but it’s really gone the other way,” Chung said Wednesday. “That’s just my opinion.”

For better of for worse, he’s proud the Council and his colleagues are moving forward with a measure like Bill 220. The majority of his fellow Council members agreed.

“It seems like for the majority of the public, although they are not here, I think this is a positive,” said Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder.

Kimball said through very lengthy discussions the Council developed a high-quality bill that’s been well thought out and is highly defensible.

Brandon Nakayama, 21, of Hilo checks out the handgun selection Oct. 27 at S. Tokunaga Store in Hilo as manager Eric Kuwana stands by to assist him. Photo by Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now.

Council Chairwoman Maile David thanked Chung and Kimball for their hard work on the measure.

“Between the two of them, they worked very hard in getting this bill to the point where we are now going to be voting on something almost as good as it can be,” David said.

The second and final reading of Bill 220 passed by a vote of 5-1, with Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz voting no and Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy and Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas absent. Councilman Tim Richards no longer sits on the Council after being elected to the Hawai’i Senate District 4 seat in the Nov. 8 general election.

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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