With 19 words, Hawaii state Sen. Stanley Chang has rattled the nation’s gun lobby. “This body believes that it is necessary to repeal or amend the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
Chang has introduced two identical measures to address gun rights: SCR42, a concurrent resolution that would have to pass both Senate and House; and SR29, which only needs to pass the Senate.
Both are nonbinding resolutions that challenge what they term the “individual right theory,” or the interpretation that the U.S. Constitution restricts legislative bodies from prohibiting firearm possession.
Sen. Stanley Chang said there’s too much ambiguity in the Second Amendment.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Chang’s office did not make him available to discuss the resolutions, but said in an email that “in light of the continuing, devastating toll of gun violence across America, it is simply beyond argument that we need to have a serious and productive conversation about gun regulations.”
“The problem we have run into, time and again, is the ambiguity inherent in the language of the Second Amendment,” Chang’s statement said. “This is the logical place to begin the discussion.”
Chang and former Rep. Kaniela Ing introduced similar resolutions in 2018 to no effect. This year’s resolutions have not yet been scheduled for a hearing, but some people see them as part of a string of Hawaii proposals to take away rights.
Fears that island legislators have gone ban-crazy are not without merit. As a case in point, if you type “Hawaii wants to …” in a Google search, a litany of legislative measures come up, ranging from bans of sunscreen to cigarettes to the Second Amendment.
Hawaii Rifle Association president Harvey Gerwig called Chang’s resolutions “crazy as hell.”
“The Second Amendment is the only amendment that protects all the others,” Gerwig said. “It is eminently as important and/or more important than any of the others, such as free speech.”
In a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, the court ruled that “the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”
The First Amendment, which partially uses identical language to the Second Amendment — “the right of the people” – is widely interpreted as both a collective and individual freedom. If so, why would “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” be merely a collective right subject to state restriction, as the resolution implies?
The Foundation for Economic Education, a libertarian/free market public policy think tank, dismissed any potential response from Congress to Chang’s resolutions, announcing that “Individuals will, of course, decide for themselves whether the Founders intended the Second Amendment to be an individual or a collective right.”
The National Rifle Association likewise blasted them as “a gross disregard for individual liberties that the United States was founded upon” and called out the Hawaii Legislature over other gun control measures introduced this year.
Last week, the House Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs Committee passed out three crossover Senate bills on the NRA’s watch list.
• Senate Bill 600, introduced by Sen. Clarence Nishihara, seeks to raise the legal age to 21 for any person to bring a firearm into the state and subsequently register it.
• Senate Bill 621, also introduced by Nishihara, would require gun owners to report to police lost, stolen or destroyed firearms for entry in the National Crime Information Center database. Persons found guilty of failing to comply would be faced with a misdemeanor, and risk losing the right to own, possess or register any firearms.
• Senate Bill 1466, introduced by Sen. Karl Rhoads, creates “Gun Violence Protective Orders” that would allow law enforcement officers, family members or household members to obtain court orders to bar a person from firearms if they are suspected of posing a danger to themselves or others. Now in the Senate, Rep. Chris Lee’s similarly written House Bill 720 has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.
Florida resident and firearm owner Robert Chute says he was disturbed to hear Hawaii believes in repealing or amending the Second Amendment, a proposal that would affect not only Hawaii residents, but all of America.
Chute, who is active in numerous pro-firearms organizations, learned of the resolutions from media reports and reached out to Hawaii residents through social media to confirm if rumors were true that the state Senate really wanted to repeal or amend the right to bear arms.
“When I first heard of the resolutions, I was absolutely shocked,” Chute says. “Gun control initiatives do not focus on the root cause of crime, instead they seek to control the population. As a Second Amendment supporter, I think Hawaiians need to fight back against control, and reclaim their God-given rights.”
Calls for gun control also continue at the national level. The recent terrorist attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was quickly seized upon by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as an opportunity to rebuke the NRA.
“What good are your thoughts & prayers when they don’t even keep the pews safe?” the congresswoman tweeted, adding in a follow-up tweet, “‘Thoughts and prayers’ is reference to the NRA’s phrase used to deflect conversation away from policy change during tragedies.”
Mass shootings aren’t exactly a problem in Hawaii. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hawaii has only 4.5 firearms-related deaths per 100,000 people annually, which ranks it as one of the lowest states for gun violence.
Chang’s resolutions, which have been referred to the Senate Public Safety and Judiciary committees, will likely go nowhere, but they are getting attention.
Honolulu County Republican Chairman Brett Kulbis fears Democrats are looking for pretexts to disarm legal gun owners, warning, “The reason our Founding Fathers enacted the Second Amendment was to ensure that our federal and state governments could never impair the right of the people to withstand the tyranny of their own government.”
Hawaii’s legislators have indeed shown an odd propensity in recent years for taking away or restricting personal freedoms. You don’t have to be a libertarian to ask: Why is the Legislature out to ban so much these days?
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Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.