Editorial: Strict as possible for gun-carry rule

Gun Rights

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Hawaii has long enjoyed stringent gun laws, a fact that’s helped to keep communities here relatively safe. Having among the strictest laws in the nation has contributed to this state having one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the U.S.

Loosening of a key law, though, is now being forced by June’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling — New York State Rifle &Pistol Association v. Bruen — that changed the gun-carry landscape nationwide. Last week, Hawaii County joined Maui County as the first two municipalities in Hawaii to update their licensing processes for civilians carrying firearms in public. Honolulu and Kauai counties are working to revise their policies, too.

While some gun enthusiasts are criticizing it as too slow, the deliberate pace to allow more firearms in public is welcome, especially given recent swaths of gun violence on the mainland. Hawaii does not have a gun-toting tradition or culture, so this is uncharted territory, and safeguards must be built into new licensing procedures.

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“Hawaii law — in recognition of the potential risks to public safety — has imposed limits on the public carry of firearms for over 150 years,” noted state Attorney General Holly Shikada in a July legal opinion about the effects here of the Bruen decision.

The upshot of that decision? Gun owners who want to carry their firearm in public no longer have to give any “special need” reason or justification when applying for the carry license.

Up until the Bruen ruling, Hawaii law said public-carry applicants had to make “an exceptional case” that the weapon was needed for protection of life or property. Given that high hurdle and with discretion resting solely with the county police chiefs, just four permits to carry a gun in public had been issued in the past 22 years.

The “exceptional” requirement is now moot for gun owners seeking concealed-carry permits — a lowered bar that will take some adjustment for a state that’s allowed very few civilians to carry guns in public.

Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. that requires all firearms to be registered, and registrations were up nearly 7% in 2021. As more gun owners apply for public carry, it’s good to see the revised policies of the Hawaii island and Maui police departments include a host of must-dos for applicants. Among the Hawaii County requirements, for example:

>> A copy of a signed firearms proficiency test administered by a state-certified or National Rifle Association firearms instructor. The proficiency test, to include shooting scores, must be taken with the firearm to be carried.

>> Two front-facing photographs of the applicant, taken within 30 days prior to submitting the application. Also required are background checks and mental-
health clearance.

As noted by the attorney general, the police chiefs “can and should still require that applicants for a concealed carry license be qualified to use the firearm in a safe manner.” That underscores that a concealed-carry license raises the expectation that the firearm may well be discharged in public, so gun owners bear responsibility to train and uphold safety standards.

As for unconcealed carry: The Bruen ruling does leave states with discretion to place “good cause” restrictions on one form of carry — so that means Hawaii can retain the justification requirements for “open carry” applicants. That seems to be a plus, for it may minimize overt and visible gun-toting in public, while still allowing for firearms to be concealed-carried by responsible gun owners.

In terms of curbing where firearms can be carried, that will fall to the Legislature to specify gun-prohibited zones. Common sense says those zones should include schools, bars, churches and polling places, for starters. In New York starting Thursday, scores of “sensitive” sites such as Times Square, parks, churches and theaters will become gun-free zones, after lawmakers there quickly passed legislation in response to the Bruen concealed-carry ruling.

As Hawaii navigates this new normal on gun rights, it’ll need to balance public carry with public safety. On this tough issue, which could well hold life-or-death consequences, let’s err on the side of caution.

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