Although the Hawaii chapter of the National Rifle Association hailed yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, legal experts say they do not believe it will lead to a successful challenge to Hawaii’s gun control laws.
"I think the Supreme Court pretty much mimics our opinion about this: We all have a right to protect ourselves under the Second Amendment," said Harvey Gerwig II, president of the Hawaii Rifle Association.
Gerwig said his group does not plan to file any immediate federal court challenge to state laws that he says are so restrictive that they discourage handgun ownership. The association’s reasons, he said, include the legal fees and costs to mount such a challenge, but also the group wants to first address the issue with state authorities.
Gerwig said the state laws require paperwork and multiple trips to the police department to legally acquire a handgun. He said his group is not opposed to the required gun safety classes, but believes it should be a one-stop, one-time process to get a handgun.
But Gerwig said if the group is not successful, they might seek the help of the National Rifle Association in filing the federal lawsuit here.
Hawaii law requires a permit and the registration of a handgun, as well as the owner taking a gun safety class. Convicted felons and the mentally ill are prohibited from possessing guns, according to state law.
Attorney General Mark Bennett said he does not see anything in yesterday’s decision that makes him think the state laws will be struck down.
He pointed out that the high court’s ruling yesterday and another two years earlier dealt with laws that essentially banned individuals from possessing guns in their homes. Hawaii’s laws, which regulate who can own handguns – but does not ban them in homes – are not as restrictive as the laws addressed by the high court, Bennett said.
The 2008 high court ruling, District of Columbia v. Heller, found that the Second Amendment protects guns possession at home for self-protection. It struck down the handgun ban in Washington, D.C.
Yesterday’s ruling, McDonald v. City of Chicago, sent back to the appeals court laws effectively banning nearly all residents from owning handguns.
The significance is that the court extended Second Amendment rights to the states, which means state and local gun laws can now be challenged in federal court, according to Jon Van Dyke, constitutional law professor at the University of Hawaii law school.
Van Dyke said the Hawaii Supreme Court has already upheld the state gun-control laws under the state Constitution’s provision similar to the federal Constitution’s right to bear arms.
Yesterday’s ruling could lead to federal court challenges here,. But Van Dyke, like Bennett, noted that the U.S. Supreme Court dealt with laws far more restrictive. He said that court did not strike down all regulations, pointing out that it still would be permissible to ban the mentally ill or felons from owning the weapons.
"I think our gun laws are carefully developed, and I would expect that they would be upheld," he said.