O‘ahu buyback event collected 494 guns; but Hawaiʻi police chief skeptical of programʻs benefit
November 18, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
For the first time since 2000, a gun buyback event was held in the State of Hawaiʻi, with 494 firearms collected on Oʻahu. They included ghost guns, assault rifles, pistols and even an Uzi.
“This buyback program is just one way we are working to make our community safer,” said Jordan Lowe, director of the state Department of Law Enforcement. “By turning in unwanted guns, it may help save a life and prevent a future crime from being committed.”
The state hopes to expand the program — in which people who turned in unwanted firearms received $100 or $200 Foodland gift cards — to the neighbor islands.
Hawai‘i Police Chief Ben Moszkowicz said he isn’t opposed to hosting a similar one on the Big Island, but he thinks the money spent on the program would be a waste for his department because citizens already have a way to turn in unwanted firearms quickly and safely. (See how to do so at end of story).
And, he added: “I don’t foresee criminals who would otherwise commit crimes with a gun turning that gun in for a gift card. For the Hawai‘i Police Department to run such an event would require an outside funding source to pay for the vouchers/gift cards/cash pay-outs.”
The Oʻahu gun buyback cost $90,000, with $45,000 from the Hawaiʻi Department of Law Enforcement and a $45,000 Project Safe Neighborhoods grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“If DLE [the Department of Law Enforcement] wants to run a program similar to what they did on O‘ahu, we would, of course, support them however we can,” Moszkowicz said. “Ultimately, however, I don’t find gun buyback programs to be an effective policing strategy that reduces gun violence.”
The chief said he has read several studies about the efficacy of similar programs across the country and came to the conclusion they are not the panacea that some would purport.
There had been discussions with Hawai‘i County Police Department and Prosecutors Office regarding the logistics of the program. Moszkowicz said he met on Oʻahu with Lowe, who offered to set up an event on the Big Island, but nothing came from that discussion.
The state Department of Law Enforcement believes the gun buyback events provide a valuable service to the community, including the Big Island, where gun violence has been on the rise.
Comparing the period, Jan. 1 to Oct. 19 in 2022 and 2023, Hawaiʻi Island police report an increase in the following:
- Homicides and attempted homicides: 2 to 7
- Firearm recoveries: 290 to 355
- Officer-involved shoots: 0 to 2
There also was also a rise in the number of firearms turned in to the department for safekeeping from 218 in 2022 to 237 so far this year.
The only statistic in which there was a decline was in assaults involving firearms, from nine to five.
So far this year, Hawai‘i Island police have received 360 applications for concealed carry permits. As of October, 250 permits were issued, 87 were pending, 19 were denied and four were voided.
Through October of 2022, the applications received for concealed carry permits was only 50.
This primarily was due to a change in the law. In August 2022, the Hawai’i Police Department revised its permitting process for licenses to carry firearms to adhere to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a New York gun law that required people to demonstrate a specific need for carrying a gun in public in order to get a concealed carry license.
Moszkowicz said the Hawai‘i Police Department is doing “a very good job” at investigating, identifying the offenders and making arrests in cases involving gun violence.
“Unfortunately, our criminal justice system is not adequately dealing with the mental health and substance abuse issues that many of these offenders have,” he said.
Two weeks ago, Dorson Behrendt was arrested and charged with attempted murder, first-degree robbery and firearms charges. His bail was set at $350,000. During his initial appearance on Nov. 2, 2023, Judge Kimberly Taniyama granted Behrendt release on his own recognizance.
Ronald Kahikikolo was on supervised release when he was accused of shooting a woman in the head during a domestic dispute in March. Days later, after a manhunt for him, Kahikikolo led police on a chase across the northern part of the island before he was captured.
These cases, Moszkowicz said, highlight the dangers officers face on the streets every day.
In 2017, the Hawaiʻi State Legislature requested that the Attorney General conduct a research study on the gun buyback program, which they submitted in 2018. The study found a difference of opinion about whether gun buybacks were effective in reducing crime or collecting stolen firearms of those used in crimes.
In 2020, legislation was submitted to create a gun buyback program within the Department of Public Safety, but the bill did not pass. SB2201 would have established a voluntary firearm buyback center in each county adopting a “no questions asked” policy that allowed citizens to turn in any unwanted firearm in return for compensation.
Despite this legislative set back, the Governor’s Office and the Departments of Public Safety and Law Enforcement, the Department of the Attorney General, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Health and the Honolulu Police Department teamed up to hold the Oʻahu gun buyback event in October.
“Firearm violence is a public health concern and is the leading cause of death for children nationally,” said Dr. Kenneth Fink, the state director of health. “While Hawaiʻi has a low rate of firearm injuries and deaths, one out of 10 homes has a gun, and last year four children had non-fatal injuries and three children died from firearms.”
He added: “Safe storage of firearms at home — such as by storing guns unloaded and separate from ammunition; securing in a locked gun vault, safe or case; and using locking devices such as cable-based and trigger locks — can reduce the risk of firearm-related assault, suicide and unintentional harm to children. Not having guns in the house is even safer for children.
The buyback program also made available free gun safety kits.
How people on the Big Island can turn in unwanted firearms:
- Call the the department’s Firearms Registration Stations in Hilo at 808-961-2239 or in Kailua-Kona at 808-326-4646 ext. 222 or 285 to set up when to turn them in.
- Contact the department’s non-emergency number at 808-935-3311.
- For additional contact numbers and locations, click here.