As expected, the U.S. Supreme Court has reasserted its decision of two years ago that possessing a gun is a constitutional but less than absolute right. States still may tailor gun regulations but that is not likely to reduce the 60,000 deaths and injuries a year caused by firearms in the United States. Fortunately, Hawaii’s relatively strong rules are likely to survive any legal challenge.
The high court struck down the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns in 2008 and this week extended the ruling to state and local gun control laws.
The justices sent the case back to Chicago and Oak Park, Ill., to readdress their gun controls in conformity with the Second Amendment’s right to bear firearms.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who wrote the majority opinion in the 5-4 decision, acknowledged that it may "lead to extensive and costly litigation."
However, Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett has expressed confidence that the state’s present gun controls would survive any legal challenge.
Indeed, Harvey Gerwig II, president of the Hawaii Rifle Association, said he has no plan to challenge the rigidity of the islands’ handgun restrictions. He said the organization instead will address the issue of delays in gaining permission to get a handgun.
Gerwig noted that Hawaii’s law requires a person to fill out paperwork and make multiple trips to the police department before being allowed to own a handgun. He wants a one-stop, one-time process. However, the state’s meticulous requirements are not unreasonable. They are a primary line of defense in determining whether an applicant has been convicted of a felony or involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, and therefore prohibited by federal law from obtaining a firearm.
Hawaii is among only four states that allow involuntary commitment if a mentally ill person poses an "imminent danger" to himself and others.
Virginia has a similar law, but the mental treatment of Seung-Hui Cho, who used semiautomatic pistols to kill 32 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech in 2007, had been voluntary. A Virginia magistrate had ordered that Cho be evaluated at a mental health center but he was free to go the next day.
Hawaii legislators have resisted increasing the capacity of ammunition clips beyond 10 rounds, a limit that was federal law until its expiration in 2004. Both Cho and Jiverly Wong, who shot and killed 13 people last year at an immigration center in Binghamton, N.Y., fired semiautomatic Glock pistols, which come with 15-round magazines.
The high court’s ruling means that legislators need to justify requirements that don’t constitute a ban on firearms. The state’s present law should satisfy that standard: Gun registration reached a record high in Hawaii last year.