Lawmakers Seek Gun Restrictions, Expansion Of Involuntary Mental Health Treatment

Feb 5, 2020

Citing the recent killing of two Honolulu police officers, a group of lawmakers wants to further restrict access to firearms and expand the power to require mental health treatment.

The group was led Tuesday by House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti, but included the heads of committees on public safety and judicial matters from both the House and Senate.

Lawmakers were joined by state Attorney General Clare Connors and Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard, who -- following the killing of her officers -- has emerged as a forceful advocate for expanding involuntary commitment of individuals. 

“We cannot ask them to make decisions for themselves when we're saying that they're mentally ill. If you have a broken leg, you would make sure that person got medical treatment. These people who are mentally ill, have broken minds. They need to get the medical treatment, whether we get involuntary commitment or if we just need to get them the help that they need,” Ballard said at a press conference.

The effort takes a two-pronged approach, ramping up restrictions on access to firearms while simultaneously expanding the ability of authorities to involuntarily commit someone to mental health treatment.

As described by their authors, the proposals attempt to close a laundry list of loopholes in Hawaii’s gun laws, including requiring a police review of mental health records before issuing a permit, outlawing the possession of a firearm while intoxicated, restricting the sale of ammunition, and banning so-called “ghost guns,” a type of unregistered firearm purchased online in incomplete form and assembled by the user.

Several of the proposed restrictions appear to be prompted by the January shooting near Diamond Head. One would allow law enforcement officers to search the home and vehicle of a person convicted of violating a temporary restraining order. Another would require police to certify the appropriate transfer or disposal of any registered guns left to the estate of a deceased person.

Multiple restraining orders had been filed against Jerry Hanel, the man who police say was the shooter in the Diamond Head incident. It is believed that the firearms used in the killing may have been purchased by the already-deceased husband of Hanel’s landlord.

Lawmakers said they are not seeking to punish responsible gun owners.

On the mental health front, the legislation seeks to add beds to the state’s in-patient mental health treatment facilities and increase mental health awareness training for police and corrections officers.   

But a pair of proposals also allow persons charged with non-violent misdemeanors to be committed to mental health treatment, if they are deemed unfit for court proceedings.

Chief Ballard wants to go even further, empowering to police officers to send someone to a hospital for mental health treatment without having to wait for a psychologist to assess them.  

Hawaii Island Rep. Joy San Buenaventura says one of the bills would fund the creation of short-term stabilization facilities for patients dealing with mental illness or addiction.  

“We will have some beds space in Kaneohe State Mental Hospital available for civil commitments, as well as expedite them through treatment,” Buenaventura said.

The program could also be used to treat people living on street, who authorities say often exhibit signs of mental illness or drug use.