Hawaii residents applied for a record number of permits to buy guns last year and registered a near-record number of firearms, while the islands continued to enjoy the lowest rate of gun-related deaths in the country.
Last year, 12,801 personal/private firearm permit applications were processed in Hawaii, a 1.5 percent increase over the previous record-setting year, the state attorney general’s office said yesterday.
Of that number, 12,214 permits were approved.
In addition, 31,390 firearms were newly registered here in 2010, fewer than the record 33,678 gun registrations in 2009 but still twice as many as in 2004.
Bill Richter, secretary and director of the Hawaii Rifle Association and the president of Lessons In Firearms Education, said there was a national surge in gun sales following President Barack Obama’s election in 2008 amid fears that Obama would impose further firearms restrictions.
“Fortunately, President Obama has not seemed interested in pursuing further gun control,” Richter said.
But more island residents are buying guns for personal protection, especially following natural disasters such as last month’s tsunami, Richter said.
“Some people are concerned that the government may not be able to provide the services that they have in the event of tsunamis and other disasters,” Richter said. “In the event those types of tragedies occur, the government will be even less likely to protect them, and they’ll have to protect themselves. Firearms are a basic tool in the event that something terrible happens, be it a criminal breaking into their house to attack their family or a tsunami.”
Determining where Hawaii’s latest firearms permit numbers rank nationally is difficult because of differing laws from state to state, said Kristen Rand, legislative director for the Washington, D.C.-based Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit organization focused on preventing gun violence.
“In Hawaii you have such strong permitting laws that you’re able to track exactly how many more people are buying guns,” Rand said. “Most states have absolutely no records of who’s buying guns and how many they’re buying. Hawaii has some of the strongest gun laws in the country, probably after California and D.C. You also benefit because Hawaii also has the lowest gun death rate (2.82 per 100,000 people).”
But national surveys indicate that Hawaii’s registration increase is bucking the national trend, Rand said.
“The gun lobby is out there pushing the story that everybody wants a gun, people are flooding out to get a concealed carry license and the gun industry is booming,” she said. “But surveys show a consistent decrease in household and personal gun ownership (nationally).”
Because government does not track the number of firearms that leave the state, there is no firm number on how many privately owned guns are in Hawaii. An estimate made in the late 1990s placed the total number of privately owned firearms in Hawaii at roughly 1 million, the attorney general’s office said.