HILO — Hawaii’s gun laws are some of the toughest in America, yet they fail to fully protect people who have obtained a court-issued restraining order against someone.
That’s according to a Hilo gynecologist who fears physical retaliation from an anti-abortion protester who has flaunted high-powered weapons and threatened visits by an “angel of death.”
“Do we feel totally safe? Never. We’re not going to feel safe against that guy,” said Dr. Frederick Nitta, who performs abortions in what he says is a small part of his practice.
On Feb. 21, Nitta and four members of his staff convinced a Big Island District Court judge to issue a temporary restraining order against James Borden, a self-described reverend who stages frequent protests across the street from Nitta’s office and as part of the Yahweh Ministry that Borden operates from Lincoln Park a mile away in downtown Hilo.
Nitta said the protests have prompted one of his colleagues to stop performing abortions, something Borden also mentioned.
Borden, whose virtually nonstop protests for more than seven years have targeted former President Barack Obama, Muslims, abortion and other topics, has a Facebook profile photo showing him holding a Russian-made AK-47 assault weapon in one hand and a Bible in the other. A .357 Magnum pistol can be seen holstered on his hip.
“If people want to interpret that as I’m some sort of religious zealot, that’s up to them,” he said.
Borden, 68, said he’s been a gun owner since he was 15 and started hunting with friends using his 12-gauge shotgun. He said he’s completed various gun-safety classes.
“Of course I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” he said. “Firearms is a fundamental right.”
But that right has limits.
Under Hawaii law, people served with temporary restraining orders must turn in all their guns and ammunition to authorities for safekeeping for as long as the order remains in effect. In Borden’s case, that will last the maximum three years, according to District Judge M. Kalani Laubach’s order.
Nitta said that’s not sufficient to make him feel safe.
“The TRO is a voluntary thing. They volunteer to surrender it,” Nitta said of firearms. “What’s to force them to comply? How are they going to enforce that?”
While federal law prohibits firearm ownership by people subject to a final protective order, Hawaii in 1993 was the first state to impose that mandate for temporary orders, according to Prosecutors Against Gun Violence and the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy. Fifteen other states have since enacted similar laws. Some, such as California, impose a 24-hour deadline to relinquish guns. Hawaii has no such deadline.
“I don’t know if the (Hawaii) law is followed or if it’s imposed,” said attorney Jeremy Butterfield, who represented Nitta and his co-petitioners.
Butterfield said Borden’s social media profile photo was one of the main factors behind his clients’ safety concerns and their pursuit of a protective order.
“That was certainly the purpose of them filing. They knew he had guns,” the attorney said.
Butterfield, who also has represented a client who turned in firearms after being served with a TRO, said it would be great if police confirmed compliance with the surrender requirement.
“We don’t get any notification,” he said.
Nitta said he contacted the Hawaii County Police Department and was told that Borden gave them one rifle and two pistols.
“From what the police said, he did turn them in, but there’s no way of knowing if he had any unregistered guns,” Nitta said.
The Hawaii Police Department is aware of the order issued against Borden, but state law prevents revealing if he surrendered any firearms or ammunition, Chief Paul Ferreira wrote in an email.
Ferreira said he was unable to say how many firearms his department received under the surrender process during the most recent calendar or fiscal year. That information is not regularly maintained and would require reading each report, he said.
Borden declined to say if he’s complied with the law, noting he’s been threatened for his outspoken views.
“Having my picture of my firearms actually protects me,” he said of the photo he first posted nearly four years ago, adding it will give pause to anyone seeking to come to his home and do harm.
Borden called the case against him “a farce.”
“I think my Second Amendment right has unfairly been taken away from me because I was no threat to them,” he said.
Borden said he’d challenge the surrender law, but lacks money to pay for an attorney.
As for checking for unregistered guns, that would require establishing that probable cause exists to obtain a warrant to search a home, Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth said.
“A lot of times what happens is people give the guns to someone else,” Roth said.
But that means an accused abuser could have access to firearms that are supposed to be off-limits while a TRO is active. The option of a weapons transfer is not stated in local law.
According to state law, a person served with a protective order “shall relinquish possession and control of any firearm and ammunition owned by that person to the police department of the appropriate county for safekeeping for the duration of the order or extension thereof.”
“I think it’s a good law to have,” Roth said.
Soon after the TRO was issued against him, Borden said the FBI contacted him to ask if he was going to remove the Facebook image. He declined.
“What I’m doing is showing the world … that I support my Second Amendment rights,” he said.
Borden said he’s been in hundreds of street fights, mostly in his youth, and is not a pacifist reverend.
“I don’t want any harm to come to anybody,” he said.
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Jason Armstrong has reported extensively for both of Hawaii Island’s daily newspapers. He was a public information officer/grant writer for the Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation from 2012 to 2016 and has lived in Hilo since 1987. Email Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org