House defers bill expanding police firearms searches

HONOLULU — The state House of Representatives has deferred action on a bill that would have expanded police powers to search for firearms without obtaining a warrant.

The bill was deferred by lawmakers during a joint hearing of the Public Safety, Veterans, and Military Affairs and the Judiciary committees last week, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday.

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The bill would have permitted law enforcement officers to search people convicted of violating certain restraining or protective orders for firearms if abuse, property damage or harassment was “imminent.”

The bill also said any firearms seized could not be used for a convictions if the original searches lacked probable cause.

Jerry Hanel — who allegedly killed Honolulu Police Department officers Tiffany Enriquez and Kaulike Kalama, and his landlord, Lois Cain on Jan. 19 — was under a court order that banned him from possessing firearms or ammunition.

Police did not execute a search warrant at Hanel’s home to determine whether he was complying with the weapons ban.

“They didn’t have probable cause. That’s why they couldn’t go in,” said Democratic Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, who sponsored the bill.

Hawaii Rifle Association Board Member Brandon Leong submitted written testimony saying the bill failed to offer due process and the constitutional requirement for search warrants.

Andrew Namiki Roberts of the Hawaii Firearms Coalition also submitted testimony saying police should have to obtain warrants to search a property.

“This bill does not even require a suspicion that a firearm is in the accused’s possession,” Roberts said.

The Domestic Violence Action Center in Honolulu supported the measure, calling the bill “an important improvement to the system’s current failures to seize firearms when they are present, hidden, unregistered — but available.”

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Attorney Ellen Godbey Carson said the bill’s provisions would only be triggered after restraining orders or other protective measures were issued.

“When such an order has been violated and the police believe substantial harm is imminent, the balance of interests favors the community being safeguarded from violence,” Carson said.

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