Chad Blair: How Tasers Became Legal In Hawaii - Honolulu Civil Beat


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Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.


Andrew Namiki Roberts very much wanted to buy a stun gun and a Taser for self-defense at his residence, where he lives with his young daughter, and at his business.

A self-employed photographer, the United Kingdom citizen and resident of Hawaii often carried around expensive equipment and money.

He had never been convicted of a crime that would disqualify him from owning a gun under state or federal law. He had never been diagnosed with a mental disorder. And he didn’t abuse alcohol or use illegal drugs.

And yet, under Hawaii law Roberts could not own an electric gun, although its use was allowed by county police departments, officers of state agencies for public safety and conservation enforcement, and the Army and Air National Guard in emergency situations.

So, Roberts hired a lawyer from San Diego and sued the Honolulu police chief, the Hawaii attorney general and the state sheriff.

“The Second Amendment guarantees individuals a fundamental right to keep and carry arms for self-defense and defense of others in the event of a violent confrontation,” the lawsuit states.

Because of that 2018 lawsuit, a Massachusetts case and others, as of Jan. 1, 2022 it will be legal for private citizens in Hawaii 21 years of age and older to own a Taser and other electric guns. House Bill 891, signed into law July 1 by Gov. David Ige as Act 183, regulates the sale and use of electric guns and cartridges and repeals the ban on their possession, sale, gift, loan or delivery.

A screenshot from Taser’s website. The lawsuit from Andrew Namiki Roberts’ says, “More than 18,000 law enforcement agencies use the devices.” Beginning Jan. 1, private citizens in Hawaii can also own them. Screenshot

It was the Ige administration itself that asked for the enabling legislation. In its testimony in strong support of HB 891, the Hawaii Department of the Attorney General said it would “protect the health and safety of the public” by regulating the sale and use of the weapons.

The AG also explained that the constitutionality of Hawaii’s ban had been “drawn into question” by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Caetano v. Massachusetts, which unanimously vacated the conviction of a woman who carried a stun gun for self-defense. The AG also specifically cited the Roberts case seeking to invalidate Hawaii’s electric gun ban, then pending in U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii.

The legal availability of Tasers in the islands less than five months from now could change the way we try to protect ourselves. It could also be used for nefarious purposes.

So what are Tasers, and where can we get them?

Tasers Rarely Lethal

Hawaii has among the strictest gun laws in the nation and, not coincidentally, as research shows, the lowest rate of gun deaths.

But many people in Hawaii own guns. A 2019 study estimated that our state of 1.4 million has about 2 million privately owned guns.

And, while mass shootings are rare in the islands, we did experience a mass shooting in 1999, when “disgruntled employee” Byran Uyesugi opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol at the Xerox office on Nimitz Highway, killing seven people — just a few months after the Columbine slaughter in Littleton, Colorado, that garnered far greater media attention.

Tasers are not lethal. In instances where people have died after being tased, it is usually due to heart or respiratory problems, or if the victim was on drugs.

But Tasers are a type of stun gun that can down an attacker for up to 30 seconds with an electrical current. As a detailed article in Outdoors Magazine explains, stun guns “will not kill someone or even cause long-term damage to their body, so they are a good way of preventing yourself from incurring harm in an attack.

Taser accessories, taken from a screenshot of Taser’s website in August. Screenshot

According to 2020 data from Outdoors Magazine, Hawaii is one of only five states — the others are New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island — that do not currently allow stun guns other than for law enforcement.

The website of Axon, formerly called TASER International, says that only two states ban Tasers specifically — Hawaii and Rhode Island.

Most states have no restrictions (including heavily populated California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania) while about a dozen have various requirements — for example, Connecticut only allows Tasers for home use, while Minnesota and Maryland require background checks.

What’s the difference between a stun gun and a Taser, you ask?

Both are handheld devices that administer an electric shock, “sending the voltage through the muscles, causing quick spasms that make them unable to control their movement in an efficient manner,” as Outdoors Magazine puts it. Tasers shoot “a small, spear like projectile that contains the electric current which then attaches itself to the attacker, shooting the electric current through their body.”

A stun gun can only be used if an attacker is close by, however, while a Taser can fire its projectiles from 15 feet away.

Taser is actually an acronym — TASER — drawn from the book titled “Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.” The Guardian says the book is “a century-old racist science fiction novel” that was admired by Jack Cover; in 1969, the former NASA researcher “started to develop a non-lethal weapon that could be used by police to control unruly suspects, so that officers did not have to resort to firearms,” says the Toronto Star.

The Taser, according to Axon, was created by two brothers and an inventor “fueled by the desire to make the world a safer place.” There are several models that range from $129.99 for a StrikeLight stun flashlight to $1,799.99 for the TASER 7CQ, “the new standard in self defense.”

‘Test The Law’

Ironically, Andrew Namiki Roberts testified against HB 891. As director of the Hawaii Firearms Coalition, he wrote in his March written testimony that, while his group did not oppose the legalization of “electric arms,” it objected to regulatory requirements in the bill.

“Registration and training could be better managed via an online interface managed by the state, rather than relying on dealers and the county,” Roberts explained.

A screenshot in August 2021 from Defense Divas. “Stun guns are a very popular self-defense tool for women who need to walk alone at night or through dangerous areas and want to carry something to make them feel safer,” says Outdoors Magazine. 

But Roberts expects to see how the law works out come Jan. 1.

“My first step is to obtain one legally and test the law,” he told Hawaii News Now last month. “The fact that people in Hawaii will have a nonlethal method of self-defense is very exciting for us.”

Meanwhile, Roberts’ lawsuit is on appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a procedural issue, according to his attorney, Alan Beck.

Beck said the case is on hold pending the outcome of a 2011 Hawaii case, Young v. Hawaii, in which George Young of Hawaii County argued that he should be allowed to carry a loaded firearm in public. He was repeatedly denied a county permit for both open carry and concealed weapons, and the lawsuit argued that his 2nd Amendment rights were violated.

In the latest development in that case, in March the 9th Circuit panel upheld Hawaii’s laws regulating the open carry of firearms in public — a loss for Young. But his case, also led by Beck, is now on petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.


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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.


Latest Comments (0)

I would rather be stunned, or tased, rather than shot by a gun. Worse than shot would be a razor-sharp cross tip from an arrow.

Scotty_Poppins · 2 months ago

Thanks a lot Mr. Robert's. Yet another device that can be used in ways that can hurt me, my family, friends, and coworkers. I wonder how many incidents in schools will happen? I wonder how many disturbed and desperate people will get a device like this to commit assaults, rapes, battery, terroristic threats, robbery, etc. - all while you are safe at home and never actually threatened. I wonder who will die because the device disrupted life function because of a pace maker, or use on a sensitive area like the carotid on the throat? This device, in the hands of anyone, regardless of the best regulations, simply complicates safety and welfare of the general public. Can you imagine a crazy person, walking up behind an armed LEO, stunning him, and taking his weapon, to shoot whomever, till the clip is empty? Just wonderful (sarcasm)!

Paliku · 2 months ago

I'm a bit unclear."as of Jan. 1, 2022 it will be legal for private citizens in Hawaii 21 years of age and older to own a Taser and other electric guns."and:[Roberts ] "the United Kingdom citizen and resident of Hawaii"How will citizenship play into the Hawai'i law,and more broadly into the second amendment?

Robo · 2 months ago

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