Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 |
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Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Sean Stueber looks at a computer Wednesday while working at Stuebs’ Guns & Ammo in Hilo on Wednesday.
The County Council on Wednesday passed a controversial bill limiting where people can carry guns on the Big Island.
Bill 220, which defines a list of “sensitive places” on the island where carrying concealed and unconcealed firearms is prohibited, was introduced in late September and has finally been approved after three drafts and dozens of amendments.
The bill follows a June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that a New York concealed carry law which required a person prove “proper cause” before being granted a concealed carry permit was unconstitutional.
By extension, Hawaii’s restrictions on guns — carry permits were only awarded at a police chief’s discretion, without which guns were only permitted to be kept at home and could only be transported to limited locations such as shooting ranges — were also deemed unconstitutional.
The final form of Bill 220 fills the gap left by the Supreme Court decision by enumerating several different places where people with carrying licenses cannot bring firearms. Those places include hospitals and other medical facilities, schools, parks, churches, voting centers, government vehicles, public transit facilities and vehicles, establishments that serve alcohol, and “private property open to the public where it is conspicuously posted that public carry of firearms is not allowed.”
That last phrase was the subject of lengthy debate at both Wednesday’s meeting and the council meeting two weeks prior.
Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball, who introduced several amendments to the bill throughout its development, said said the intention of that phrase was to refer to locations such as stores and similar establishments.
However, Kimball pushed for an amendment that would shift the burden of informing the public about the rule to individual businesses. While the draft that passed allows firearms in any public business that has not posted that guns are not allowed — effectively allowing a business to “opt out” of allowing guns — Kimball’s amendment would have required businesses to “opt in” by prohibiting guns in all businesses unless a business explicitly allows it.
“We have so many people who own places of public accommodation who are not even aware that we are having this conversation right now,” Kimball said. “What I’m asking for is to consider that, because of the … fact that this has not been widely permitted in Hawaii or Hawaii County for all this time, we need to make it actually clear where it is permitted.”
That amendment failed, however, because of pushback from Puna council members Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder and Ashley Kierkiewicz.
Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder said it seems counter to the Supreme Court’s ruling to require that an establishment actively exempt itself from the sensitive places list rather than the other way around.
Deputy Corporation Counsel Sylvia Wan said the issue revolves around the balance of a citizen’s right to bear arms and a citizen’s right to control what is allowed on one’s property, and that neither right should be given more weight than the other. Although Wan made no recommendation about the amendment, Kierkiewicz said she felt it “gets businesses involved in the politics of the issue.”
Kierkiewicz also was the only council member to vote against the entire bill, calling it “overly prescriptive.”
Even though the council was largely supportive of the bill, many members of the public were not. Testimony submitted to the council by gun owners and other residents decried the bill, with some warning of future legal action against the county.
“Note that your actions in preparing a bill which clearly violates the constitutional rights of American citizens not only wastes your time and that of the taxpayers, but also sets up your County and the State of Hawaii for costly lawsuits which your County and the State of Hawaii would ultimately lose,” wrote resident Tristan Kasprzycki. “Knowing this and proceeding … is nothing short of perpetrating a crime against the American people you, your County and our State of Hawaii would ultimately be held liable for.”
Other testifiers warned that, by prohibiting firearms from certain areas, the county is simply making those areas easy targets for violence.
But Kimball noted that the bill is just a stopgap measure until the state Legislature makes its own statewide revisions to firearm carry laws in the future.
With the bill passing the council, it will go before Mayor Mitch Roth to await his signature.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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