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Several measures that could close gun loopholes and expand access to mental health services are likely to clear key votes in the Hawaii Legislature this week.
Lawmakers were already considering those bills before a man shot and killed two officers and set fire to a Diamond Head neighborhood in January. But the tragedy has brought new impetus for lawmakers to fortify Hawaii’s already strong gun laws.
The bills have support from members in both the state House and Senate and have also been pushed forward by the Honolulu Police Department. HPD, the Honolulu Emergency Services Department and several lawmakers held a press conference Wednesday ahead of a key voting deadline Friday in the Legislature in order to drum up support for the gun measures.
“I’m going to give you two very good reasons to vote for these bills. It’s right here on my badge,” said Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard, pointing at the black strip on her chest with the badge numbers of Officers Kaulike Kalama and Tiffany Enriquez, who died in the Diamond Head shooting.
“These were officers killed in the line of duty because of guns,” she said at a press conference near the Capitol downtown.
Some of the gun control measures have been introduced or have the support of Rep. Chris Lee and Sen. Karl Rhoads, chairs of their respective chamber’s judiciary committees that have oversight of gun laws.
Rhoads said he is confident at least some measures will clear the Legislature and make it to Gov. David Ige’s desk by the time session adjourns in May.
House Bill 1902, which is up for a vote by the 51-member House on Thursday, is a preventative measure that would bar gun ownership from anyone who was diagnosed with mental health or behavioral disorders as a child or has been on trial for felony charges in a family court.
People who have documentation that shows their medical condition does not make them a danger to the public can still own guns.
“If you put guns in the hands of people who are mentally ill, you’ve got an explosion.” — Chief Susan Ballard
Police and lawmakers have put a focus on mental health in an effort to curb gun violence in the state. The man suspected of killing his landlord as well as the two officers had several encounters with police and had restraining orders on him from some of his neighbors.
“If you put guns in the hands of people who are mentally ill, you’ve got an explosion,” Ballard said.
Rep. Joy San Buenaventura said that the mental health component of curbing violence must also be implemented.
Lawmakers have also been focused on expanding bed space at the state hospital for mental health treatment. There are also proposals to divert those with mental illness away from the jail system and into treatment.
“If people were able to intervene … perhaps we could prevent that violence,” San Buenaventura said, referencing the Diamond Head incident, which took place on Hibiscus Street.
San Buenaventura introduced HB 2709, which would require representatives of dead gun owners to notify the county of the firearms. Courts wouldn’t be able to close the decedent’s estate, like reconciling their assets with their debts, until the guns are disposed of.
Police believe guns used in the Diamond Head shooting belonged to the landlady’s late husband.
HB 1902 would also limit magazines for rifles to 10 rounds, a capacity currently in place for only pistols. That provision seeks to prevent high-capacity magazines that have been used in mass shootings in the U.S. from being used here.
Lee and Rhoads introduced similar measures that would limit ammunition purchases to registered gun owners. The idea is that people who illegally got a gun couldn’t easily buy bullets for it.
Lee’s bill, House Bill 2736, has passed all its committees and just needs to clear a vote by the full House before going to the Senate. Rhoads’ bill, Senate Bill 2635, is up for a preliminary vote by his committee Thursday.
House Bill 2744 would make assembling a gun from various parts without registering it a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The National Rifle Association opposed all the gun measures, often citing the Second Amendment.
The Puuloa Rifle and Pistol Club raised concerns that HB 1902, which limits high capacity magazines, could adversely affect active duty military who use gun ranges to practice their marksmanship skills outside of work.
Lee said lawmakers are still working on the bills, and, among other things, need to ensure they could clear any constitutional hurdles.
Rhoads said Hawaii doesn’t need any more guns, citing a statistic that there are more guns than people here.
“We need to keep guns out of the hands of certain people. We need to keep them out of the hands of felons. We need to keep them out of the hands of the seriously mentally ill,” he said.
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