Hawaii may be ranked among the safest states in the nation when it comes to gun violence, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a political issue locally.

Several gun-control measures are moving through the Hawaii Legislature in response to recent mass shootings on the mainland.

And over the weekend Clayton Hee, a candidate for governor, took the discussion to a new level when he proposed the state Department of Education let individual schools decide whether they want armed security officers.

“It’s a sad commentary that providing armed personnel at schools today is the new normal,” Hee, a former state senator, said in a press release. “But given the proliferation of gun violence across the country, reasonable people would conclude that it will be only a matter of time before unconscionable acts of violence will someday result in the murder of innocent students here in Hawaii.”

Wow. I can’t recall the last time a gubernatorial candidate offered such a bloody forecast of Hawaii carnage. But sadly, it’s not unimaginable and certainly got my attention.

Clayton Hee, seen here when he was a state senator in 2014, has injected school safety into the gubernatorial campaign. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Hee held a press conference Sunday and I didn’t attend, but Hawaii News Now reported on it.

And the campaign of Gov. David Ige was clearly paying attention, because it issued a statement from the governor later that day.

I feel strongly that the idea of arming people in our schools is a big mistake,” Ige said. “This idea from Clayton Hee and President Trump is misguided and extreme. There is much more that needs to be done at the federal level. I’m frustrated by the failure of Congress to pass stricter gun laws to protect our children and all of our citizens. Arming teachers is not the answer.”

Ige managed to link his Democratic primary opponent to the Republican president even though Hee did not call for arming teachers.

The governor nonetheless seized on Hee’s bold proposal to declare that “plans are underway” at the DOE and in consultation with local law enforcement to “survey our current safety plans.”

Ige then offered some news of his own: “And I, for one, intend to walk out with the students for 17 minutes to demonstrate the need for stronger gun laws in our country.”

The walkout is set nationally for March 14, a month to the day after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Florida.

Governor David ige presser legislature opening .
Gov. David Ige at a press conference in January. He strongly opposes the idea of guns at local schools. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It seems that Colleen Hanabusa, the third prominent Democrat running for governor, is paying attention to guns, too.

On Monday, the congresswoman tweeted out a link to a press release from her office announcing that she had joined “several bipartisan efforts today to expand background checks on all gun sales, ban assault weapons and bring about consideration and action on common sense legislation to help prevent gun violence.”

I don’t know whether the Hanabusa campaign was responding to the Hee-Ige dust-up, but, given that her original press release had been issued over a week ago, I would not be surprised if that was the case. There is a three-way race going on here, after all, and Hee’s entrance has made things more interesting.

Guns, Pot, Gambling

Will Hee’s stance on armed guards at schools help him? It certainly sets him apart from his opponents and demonstrates that the former state senator and Office of Hawaiian Affairs chair has not lost his knack for shaking things up and speaking provocatively.

He is already running on an anti-rail platform and has called for legalizing marijuana and a lottery to help establish new revenue streams for a cash-strapped state. Those issues will no doubt win him some votes, but also turn off some voters.

I expect the guns-at-schools proposal may win Hee some converts as well. In spite of our blue, progressive hue, Hawaii appears to have a lot of guns and gun owners.

A Business Insider story from 2015 reported that more than 45 percent of Hawaii residents own guns. That placed us well ahead of a lot of red states, including Florida and Texas.

Seems high, doesn’t it?

But a CBS News report cites the same percentage in terms of the gun-ownership rate for Hawaii. We are ranked 10th nationally, just ahead of Louisiana and just behind North Dakota.

That said, CBS also reports, “For every 1,000 residents in Hawaii, there are 5.1 guns. That’s 7,105 registered firearms dispersed among 1,404,054 people.”

By that metric, Hawaii ranks No. 46 when it comes to most heavily armed states. Wyoming is No. 1.

Update: A Hawaii Attorney General’s office report from 2015, meantime, said:

Although there is no way to track the number of firearms that permanently leave the state, independent estimates made during the late-1990s by the Department of the Attorney General and the City and County of Honolulu Police Department conservatively placed the total number of privately owned firearms in Hawaii at roughly one million. Subsequently, during the 2000 through 2015 period, a total of 467,222 firearms were registered.”

In short, there are a lot of guns and gun owners in Hawaii.

I have no idea how any of them feel about armed security at schools. But it’s likely that many of these folks vote.

Recent tweets from Gov. Ige and Rep. Hanabusa:

Thoughts on this or any other story? We’re replacing comments with a new letters column. Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes.

About the Author