Like the rest of the country, Hawaii residents aren’t allowed to drink and drive. But there’s no state law stopping them from using a gun while drunk.
Hawaii lawmakers considered a bill Friday to ban residents from operating or possessing firearms while using drugs or alcohol. National experts say Hawaii has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, but the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office says current laws don’t explicitly ban people from using guns while intoxicated.
“I think most people would absolutely agree that it’s common sense not to mix firearms and alcohol in any setting,” said Rep. Chris Lee, who introduced the bill.
The Hawaii bill comes in the midst of a national debate on gun control. Honolulu Police Department Maj. Richard Robinson says most U.S. states have enacted laws restricting the use of firearms while intoxicated.
As the current Hawaii law is written, gun owners could legally go hunting while drunk, said Robinson. The state doesn’t allow open carry, which means Hawaii residents without a concealed carry permit can only take firearms to selected locations such as shooting ranges, hunting grounds or gun shows.
Lee said he introduced the Hawaii bill to clear up whether it’s OK to use a firearm while intoxicated. The bill was introduced in response to recent gun deaths, he said.
One of those instances was when federal agent Christopher Deedy shot Hawaii resident Kollin Elderts in 2011. Prosecutors said Deedy was under the influence of alcohol and that a fellow agent had warned him about hostility from Hawaii locals toward government employees.
Deedy claimed he acted in self-defense and was trying protecting others. He was acquitted after his second trial.
“This would explicitly clear up any gray areas where this issue may still be a problem and could potentially lead people into dangerous situations,” said Lee.
But the Hawaii bill wasn’t without opposition. Dozens of Hawaii residents spoke out against the law, saying it was vague and could prevent legal gun owners from protecting themselves in emergency situations.
“I cannot be denied the right to protect my family from an intruder into my home because I have a few beers,” Jeff Ball said in opposition to the bill. “Would I need to hand the gun to my child and tell him or her to defend us?”
Harvey Gerwig, president of the Hawaii Rifle Association, said the bill could be problematic because drugs can’t be tested by law enforcement on the spot. He said it could also incriminate Hawaii residents who own guns and drink alcohol at home.
“We are absolutely not in favor of people having alcohol and firearms mixed together, but this bill is poorly written,” Gerwig said.
Hawaii had the lowest gun-death and ownership rates in the nation in 2014, according to the most recently available statistics from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Over 33,000 Americans were killed by gunfire that same year.