Hawaii Eyes Closing Gun Loopholes, Bolstering Mental Health

Jan 22, 2020

Hawaii already has some of the nation's strictest gun laws, but the fatal shooting of two Honolulu police officers by a man his lawyer and neighbors believe had psychiatric problems has added new urgency to efforts to close gun control loopholes and bolster mental health care treatment.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gives Hawaii an A- rating on its annual Gun Law Scorecard, and last year the islands joined more than a dozen other states in enacting a law allowing police and family members to obtain a court order to take firearms from someone who poses a danger to him or herself or to another person.

It's not yet clear where the gunman who killed the police officers got his weapon. But lawmakers had already been drafting legislation that would prohibit lending guns to another person. Current state law allows gun owners to lend firearms for up to 15 days within the state and for more than two months to those out of state, in both situations without background checks.

State Rep. Chris Lee, chairman of House judiciary committee, wants to examine how someone who was “clearly identified as having mental health issues” was able to accumulate weapons and ammunition.

The deadly incident happened Sunday when police received a 911 call to an upscale neighborhood near Waikiki Beach reporting that a man had stabbed and beaten a neighbor.

Jaroslav “Jerry” Hanel lived in landlord Lois Cain’s house for free in return for handyman services. Both Hanel and Cain are believed to have perished when a fire erupted inside his home shortly after he fired the fatal shots that killed the two officers. Hanel's attorney believes he may have erupted in a rage when she confronted him with an eviction notice.

It's not known whether Hanel owned guns because he didn't have a permit.

But a close friend of Cain's told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that her friend kept her late husband's guns in a storage locker under her bed. Janice Morrow said she didn't know whether the guns were still there in recent weeks. Morrow was visiting Cain and said she was trying to support her friend's efforts to evict Hanel when the violence occurred.

Stephany Sofos, a real estate appraiser and broker who knew Hanel and Cain said she advised the woman to be careful evicting Hanel.

“He's going to be very angry. He has no place to go,” Sofos said she warned Cain.

But Cain wasn't afraid. “Everybody else was afraid of him but she wasn’t,” Sofos said. “She didn’t think he would have that type of anger.”

Hawaii Gov. David Ige said he would support closing loopholes in the state's gun laws. The Democratic governor said he would also like to see more mental health services outside the criminal justice system, something that state officials have already been working on as they seek to move homeless people into housing.

Senate President Ron Kouchi said lawmakers have been working to restore funding for mental health services that were cut during the Great Recession a decade ago.

House Finance Committee Chairwoman Rep. Sylvia Luke said one challenge is the only dedicated in-patient psychiatric treatment facility in the state is fully occupied by people who have been committed there by the judicial system.

Renovations currently underway will add 55 beds to the hospital. Luke said lawmakers will need to make sure that a portion of these new beds will be available for civil commitments.

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard told Hawaii News Now that she hopes the deaths of Tiffany Enriquez and Kaulike Kalama will lead to improvements in dealing with people who have mental health issues.

“We have to be able to track people who are mentally ill,” she said. “Not just to track them but to get them the services they need.”

She suggested there should be social workers embedded in the police department.

“I know it sounds tough, but I think it’s time for tough love now,” she said.