A Republican congressman from New York has proposed legislation that would overturn state gun-control bills nationwide, including those in Hawaii.
Hawaii has some of the strictest gun-control laws in the country. In a 2015 report in the magazine Guns & Ammo, Hawaii ranked fifth, with only Washington, D.C., New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts having tougher laws.
Gun-control supporters credit the state’s laws for its low rate of violent crime by gunshot, and particularly its avoidance of the mass killings by assault rifles that have terrorized communities on the mainland. The last mass murder by gunfire in Hawaii took place in 1999, almost two decades ago.
On the mainland this year, there have been 221 mass shootings of more than four people at a time, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit group that tracks shootings.
On Monday, Rep. Chris Collins of upstate New York introduced House Resolution 3576. It would ban state or local governments from regulating rifles or shotguns more strictly than federal restrictions. Current laws on the books in places like Hawaii would be voided.
In a press release, Collins made it clear as he proposed his bill that his specific goal is to overturn New York state legislation signed into law by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013 — the so-called SAFE Act — that expanded the definition of assault weapons, imposed background checks by ammunition dealers and required mental health professionals to report clients likely to injure themselves or others so that they can be prevented from getting guns.
“This legislation would protect the Second Amendment rights of New Yorkers that were unjustly taken away,” Collins said as he unveiled his proposed legislation to reporters.
This kind of preemption bill, which overturns state and local laws in favor of federal legislation — has long been sought by the National Rifle Association.
According to the NRA website, local and state gun-control laws are unconstitutional and “create confusion” because they vary from state to state, “potentially placing otherwise law-abiding citizens at risk of violating an ordinance of which they were not previously aware.”
The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution establishes the “right to keep and bear arms” as part of a “well-regulated militia.”
The NRA has already been active in state capitals around the country seeking legislation that bans restrictions imposed by city and county governments, according to The Atlantic.
Gun-control advocates say Collins’ bill, if enacted, would jeopardize state laws that have resulted in the Hawaii’s unusually low gun death rate. According to the non-profit Law Center to Prevent Violence, it is one of the “most extreme” measures of its kind.
“This legislation would override many of Hawaii’s strong laws, including its licensing and registration requirements for rifles and shotguns,” said Lindsay Nichols, federal policy director of the law center. “Like other recent proposals by the gun lobby, it would undermine the traditional authority of the states to protect their citizens from gun violence. It would upset the current system of gun regulation, throwing into question the safety of many communities.”
In the islands, gun laws are covered under Hawaii Revised Statutes, Chapter 134. They include laws that require permits for all firearms and that require permit applicant’s names to be checked first against a national database that tracks people convicted of felonies or violent crimes, including domestic abuse.
“This legislation would override many of Hawaii’s strong laws, including its licensing and registration requirements for rifles and shotguns.” — Lindsay Nichols, Law Center to Prevent Violence
Nichols said Collins’ bill has just been introduced, so its prospects are unclear.
It is likely to attract at least some support, with the House and Senate firmly in Republican hands, and with some pro-gun Democrats anxious to keep their jobs.
Legislators in conservative, rural districts vie against each other to burnish their pro-gun credentials. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now U.S. secretary of energy, and would-be presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas both have A-plus ratings from the NRA. Collins has touted his “Grade A” rating from the NRA to his constituents.
According to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, some 315 people are shot each day in the United States.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 15,872 people were murdered in the United States in 2014, and 11,008 of them were killed by firearms.
So far this year, there have been 36,497 gunshot injuries or deaths, and an additional 22,000 suicides, according to the Gun Violence Archives. There have been 1,200 cases where guns were used in self-defense, according to the archive.
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A Kailua girl, Kirstin Downey is a special correspondent for Civil Beat. A longtime reporter for The Washington Post, she is the author of "The Woman Behind the New Deal," "Isabella the Warrior Queen" and an upcoming biography of King Kaumualii of Kauai. She can be reached at email@example.com.