A Honolulu-based gun rights group is suing the FBI over records it says could show Hawaii is abusing its fingerprint collection program used for criminal background checks.

The Hawaii Firearms Coalition filed a public records request seeking communication, transactions and information exchanged between the FBI and the state regarding a state-run program that retains fingerprints of registered gun owners to be included in the federal Rap Back Service database.

The Rap Back Service allows authorized agencies and employers to receive notification of criminal activity about people who work in positions of trust, such as teachers or daycare employees.

A gun rights group wants to know what the state is doing with the fingerprints it collects from firearm registrants.

Marina Riker/Civil Beat

In 2016, Hawaii became the first state to retain fingerprints of registered gun owners for this service. Retention began in December that year, but a state version of the Rap Back program has not launched yet, according to Chris Young, administrator at the state Criminal Justice Data Center, which runs a state version of the Rap Back program.

No fingerprints of registered gun owners were submitted to the FBI, as the federal agency has not decided if Hawaii’s inclusion of firearm registrants’ fingerprints would be permissible, Young said.

That’s one of the points of concern for Andrew Namiki Roberts, director of the Hawaii Firearms Coalition. Among the records his group is seeking are the FBI’s policies on whether registered gun owners’ fingerprints can even be retained for the federal Rap Back Service program.

The way that the state is trying to use the database infringes on the rights of gun owners, Namiki Roberts said. In the coalition’s view, firearm registration applicants simply should not be included.

“We believe the state doesn’t have the authority,” he said.

To register firearms in Hawaii, owners must sign a consent and notification form for the Rap Back Service, and they are also charged a fee of $43.25.

Namiki Roberts said the state has been collecting money from firearm applicants for two years, but it has done nothing to boost public safety.

“If it’s not working, it’s doing nothing,” he said. “It’s just costing the state money.”

Young said there is no separate fee beyond the one that’s required for state and federal background checks, so firearm registrants would have to pay that anyway.

The Hawaii Firearms Coalition made its initial records request to the FBI on April 2. According to federal law, the agency had 20 days to respond. It didn’t, according to Stephen Stamboulieh, a Mississippi-based lawyer who represents the gun group.

“The information we’re asking for shouldn’t be too complicated or shouldn’t be disclosing information that is privileged,” he said.

Stamboulieh and his co-counsel, Alan Beck, are involved in three other weapon-related cases in Hawaii, including one involving a man who sued Hawaii County and the state over denied firearm licenses. They also represent Namiki Roberts in a case involving his ability to own guns as a non-U.S. citizen.

The FBI gets sued on a regular basis regarding public records requests. In fiscal year 2018, 78 suits were filed against the agency, according to the FOIA Project, a Syracuse University research program that tracks cases challenging the government’s withholding of information.

The FBI’s own report on Freedom of Information Act requests showed that the agency processed more than 27,000 requests during fiscal year 2017.

“It can take time to get the documents,” Stamboulieh said. “But I always get the documents.”

The FBI has until June 5 to file a response to the Hawaii gun group’s complaint to the federal court.

Read the complaint here:

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