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Hawaiʻi counties discuss where guns will be prohibited under 'sensitive places' bills

FILE - A customer checks out a hand gun that is for sale and on display at SP firearms on Thursday, June 23, 2022, in Hempstead, New York. (AP Photo/Brittainy Newman)
Brittainy Newman
The U.S. Supreme Court's decision on gun laws with New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. v. Bruen opened up a discussion for sensitive places, which is the term being used for an area where guns and firearms are prohibited.

Local governments across the country are discussing laws to establish “sensitive places,” where concealed firearms are not allowed. One bill has already passed through the Hawaiʻi County Council, and a similar bill was introduced at the Honolulu City Council.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision on gun laws with New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen opened up a discussion for sensitive places, which is the term being used for an area where guns and firearms are prohibited.

The Supreme Court’s decision left room for municipalities to define where those places would be, which then prompted Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi's administration to draft Bill 57 in early November, outlining where they could be for the island.

"For the last 150 years, Hawaiʻi has always been involved in supervising concealed carry, in fact, Honolulu has never issued a concealed carry in the past, only a few issued here in Hawaiʻi," Blangiardi said earlier this month to the City Council. "We look at this and we say that, you know, right now, we're experiencing 2022, another month to go, probably the most gun violent year we've ever had in history."

The Honolulu bill would name sensitive places as any city-owned building, school, or public transportation vehicle among other areas. The bill also names more specific places, like the Honolulu Zoo and the Hawaiʻi Children's Discovery Center.

Some are concerned that enforcement will be an issue.

Honolulu Deputy Managing Director Krishna Jayaram said it’s important to get a bill on the books since the Honolulu Police Department is working to issue concealed carry licenses.

"We're fully aware that the state Legislature might take action during the next legislative session," Jayaram said. "The reason we move forward with this bill at this time is because there are license applications pending at HPD, and we thought it would not be appropriate to have a situation where licenses are being issued without some sort of regulation in place."

Andrew Namiki Roberts, the director of the Hawai‘i Firearms Coalition, said he's one of the only people in the state certified to teach a concealed carry weapons training course.

"I know coming from a gun rights organization, saying that we agree with some sensitive places is not something that you're probably expecting, but those places need to be limited in scope to places where it is traditional and historical that they could be banned," Roberts said.

One part of the bill is a “default rule.” It would allow private businesses and organizations to decide whether or not firearms are allowed on their property.

"Private businesses should be able to ban guns on their property. I have no problem with that. Property rights are just as important as gun rights, but if they do so, there needs to be legislation in place. That means that they have signs that are uniform, large and clearly indicated so that legal law-abiding gun owners do not accidentally break the law," Roberts testified.

In support of the bill were the Hawaiʻi State Public Library System and the state Department of Education, along with numerous organizations like the Domestic Violence Action Center.

A sensitive places bill has already passed through the Hawaiʻi County Council. The bill saw several drafts with numerous amendments added and designates public transportation and establishments that serve alcohol as sensitive places, on top of schools, government buildings and more.

Hawaiʻi County Council's Heather Kimball submitted testimony to the Honolulu City Council outlining how the bill progressed there.

"In our deliberations, three discussion points came up that I think are important to highlight: the Bruen decision does allow for the establishment of sensitive places, the Second Amendment does not supersede all other constitutional rights and finally the narrative that 'good guys' with guns help to protect us from 'bad guys' with guns is simply false," Kimball wrote.

Kimball led an effort to amend the Hawaiʻi County bill, and offered caution and insight as to what amendments passed through her council.

"As the Hawai’i County sensitive places bill was making its way through our legislative process, I fought hard to ensure as many sensitive places we identified as possible," Kimball wrote. "This was to protect individual and private property rights, for residents to feel safe and secure, and to live without the fear of gun violence which we have enjoyed for so long."

The Honolulu bill ultimately passed through its first reading, with Councilmembers Augie Tulba and Andria Tupola in opposition.

Tupola said the bill is too broad, and urged HPD to fill officer vacancies and focus on the places where crimes happen, like underground gambling rooms.

"I do think that we live in a free society where we should list what's prohibited and not what is allowed," Tupola said.

"The places that are mentioned in the Bruen ruling were schools, government buildings, legislative assemblies, polling places, courthouses, but it also said that new and analogous sensitive places are constitutionally permissible," she said. "I do believe here is a litmus test, it is clear that has to be defined with a perimeter and access to law enforcement. I do not support this version of the bill."

The bill is likely to see more discussion and amendments in the coming weeks.

Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
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