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How would state legislation on guns stack up to county-level laws?

Gun shop sales handgun firearms file photo
Keith Srakocic/AP
FILE - In this March 25, 2020, file photo semi-automatic handguns are displayed at a shop in New Castle, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

Sensitive places laws have become popular throughout the country, determining the areas where firearms can or cannot be in public.

Now that the state Legislature is back in session, lawmakers are considering several measures dealing with guns in public and on private property.

Only the County of Hawaiʻi has enacted such a law in the state so far, with areas including hospitals, schools and daycare centers among other places.

Last year, 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, and through this, municipalities have the jurisdiction to specify those locations.

Hawaiʻi County Council Chair Heather Kimball advocated for such a measure, and would like to see state guidance.

"Even though we've passed a county-level bill, our preference is to have a statewide standard for the identification of sensitive places," Kimball said in an interview last week.

There are several bills in the House and Senate that tackle concealed carry weapons and sensitive places.

Senate Bill 1230 was heard by the Senate Committee on Public Safety and Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Monday. This proposal is serving as the Senate's main gun bill, Sen. Glenn Wakai said, and has already begun absorbing some language from similar bills.

"This is going to be the gun vehicle so to speak as this bill moves through the session, so we're going to be pulling the language from the administration bill that is Senate Bill 1282, incorporating certain relevant provisions from that bill relating to the regulation of firearms, including the preamble of that measure," Wakai said.

SB1230 proposes statewide regulations by categorizing 18 sensitive places, broadly including schools, hospitals, municipal buildings, public transit, most public gatherings, and restaurants.

During public testimony, Honolulu Police Department Maj. Joseph Trinidad said this could be too extensive.

"The areas of sensitive places is too broad and will be difficult to enforce," Trinidad said. "The bill proposes that several public and all private properties be classified as sensitive places, this is a concern for places with multiple businesses such as a shopping center, or individual businesses may allow firearms on their premises."

SB1230 also sets minimum requirements for a concealed carry permit, which each county's police department has already determined. The bill also makes it a crime to carry a firearm in a sensitive place.

A state act like this would supersede county law, but that’s not a surprise to county officials.

"I think for the most part, there are pieces of legislation being proposed that are in alignment with what we ended up passing at the council level," Kimball said.

A sensitive places bill was introduced at the Honolulu City Council last year, offered by Mayor Rick Blangiardi.

In addition to some common-sense areas like schools and hospitals, this bill would cover all city- and county-owned areas and offers a default rule that private businesses and organizations may decide whether or not firearms are allowed on their property.

Bill 57 is up for a committee hearing Tuesday, where councilmembers will have their shot at amending the measure.

"We at the council have a quicker timeline when it comes to putting forward bills. Theoretically, Bill 57 could be ready in its final form by mid-March, whereas the Legislature isn't going to be ready until the first week of May with whatever proposal they have," Councilmember Tyler Dos Santos-Tam said Monday.

Dos Santos-Tam chairs the council's Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee. He said the council benefits from its own legislation.

"We want some degree of uniformity across all four counties, but having this relationship between the city and the state, we also want to be able to put forward county-specific proposals that maybe go above and beyond that uniform baseline that the state establishes," Dos Santos-Tam said.

Sensitive places bills introduced in the state House will likely be scheduled for committee later this month.

Sabrina Bodon is Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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