Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard today made a public pitch for proposals to ban rifle magazines that hold more than 10 bullets, and for new restrictions on the sale of ammunition in advance of key floor votes scheduled for Thursday on a package of firearms bills.
Firearms measures are scheduled in for votes in the House and Senate this week, “and we’re asking them to please, please pass these bills, for law enforcement, for all of our public safety, for the safety of our officers, for the safety of our community,” Ballard said told reporters this morning. “These bills are there to make it safe.”
Two of the proposals that Ballard is backing are being linked to the murders of Honolulu Police Officers Tiffany Enriquez and Kaulike Kalama in a Diamond Head neighborhood on Jan. 19.
One of the issues being investigated in that case is how shooter Jerry Hanel was able to obtain a rifle and ammunition that was used to kill the officers. Hanel was under a court order banning him from possessing a firearm, but may have obtained an unregistered gun that belonged to the late owner of the home where Hanel was renting a room.
Ammunition could be heard exploding in the home on Hibiscus Drive as it burned after the shootings. Hanel and his landlord Lois Cain were both burned in the fire, which also destroyed five homes in the neighborhood.
Lawmakers are considering House Bill 2709, which would impose new requirements when an owner of a firearm dies. That proposed new law would require that a representative be appointed to the estate of the late gun owner, and the representative would notify police of any firearms that are part of the estate.
The estate of the late gun owner would not be allowed to close until police are notified the guns have been properly transferred or disposed of, according to the bill.
Another measure being considered is House Bill 2736, which would require that gun stores demand that customers provide proof that they have a legally registered firearm before they are allowed to purchase any ammunition for the weapon.
Hawaii already has some of the most strict firearms laws in the nation, but Ballard said tightening those laws is “the right thing to do.” Senate Judiciary Chairman Karl Rhoads said Hawaii’s tough gun laws are the reason Hawaii has some of the lowest rates of gun violence in the nation for years.
The National Rifle Association, meanwhile, is urging its supporters to resist the proposed new laws.
The NRA contends that “evidence clearly shows that restriction and registration of firearms and ammunition provides no public safety benefit. Criminals will easily sidestep these new requirements while law abiding gun owners and businesses are punished yet again by burdensome and unnecessary restrictions.”
The organization also argues that under Hawaii law, gun owners are not required to register rifles acquired in the state before July 1994, when the state registration requirements for rifles took effect. That means owners of firearms acquired before that date “will be unable to purchase ammunition for them, unless they register the firearms,” according to the NRA.
Police said today there is no evidence that Hanel actually bought any ammunition, but the case is still under investigation.
The NRA is also resisting a proposed ban on large-capacity magazines for rifles that lawmakers are considering.
Large-capacity magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition are already banned in Hawaii for pistols, and House Bill 1902 would extend that prohibition to rifles. Under the proposed new ban, only law enforcement officials would be allowed to have magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets.
Supporters including House Judiciary Chairman Chris Lee say the ban could help to cope with a mass shooting in Hawaii. When shooters are forced to reload, that can sometimes give bystanders precious seconds to take steps to either attack the shooter to stop the attack, or escape.
House Public Safety Committee Chairman Gregg Takayama said that 10 of the worst mass shootings in recent years involved shooters who used large-capacity magazines than can hold from 20 to as much as 100 rounds.
“We think this will save lives,” Takayama said of the proposed ban on those magazines. “Everyone thinks that Hawaii is somehow immune from mass shootings. Well, no place that’s ever had a mass shooting ever expected to be the site of a mass shooting.”
The NRA argues large-capacity magazines are “standard equipment for commonly-owned firearms that many Americans legally and effectively use for an entire range of legitimate purposes, such as self-defense or competition.”
The national lobbying organization also cites studies that show banning the magazines has no effect on violent crime rates, and notes that a federal court judge already ruled in a case called Duncan v. Becerra that a similar ban on large-capacity magazines in California is unconstitutional.
That decision is currently being appealed, and Lee said that appeal may go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a process that could take years.
In the meantime, he said, “this is a public health and safety matter that many other states have already moved ahead with and have had on their books for some years. We’ve had a similar (law) here for pistols, so that seems entirely appropriate.”
Lawmakers are also poised to vote on House Bill 2744, which would make it a felony offense punishable by up to five years in prison to purchase, manufacture, or otherwise obtain firearm parts to assemble a gun with no serial number. Those mail-order weapons are sometimes described as “ghost guns.”
The measure would also establish a gun violence and violent crimes commission that would research on gun violence and violent crimes and report to the state Legislature on its findings.
The NRA also takes issue with that plan, worrying that “this bill is likely to produce biased advocacy instead of sound science.”
“Despite ample evidence showing the public benefit of gun ownership, ‘gun violence research’ often only measures the negative impact,” the NRA said in a memo circulated to its members. “As this bill does not include a requirement to study the effects of gun ownership holistically, we are concerned this commission will be misused to create anti-gun propaganda.”