Proponents of new gun law say it will help police, protect owners; others say it’s obtrusive

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald A variety of guns are for sale Saturday at Z Sports in Hilo.

Hawaii County’s police chief said a recently enacted law — requiring gun owners to report a lost, stolen or destroyed firearm to county police within 24 hours of discovery of the loss — shouldn’t have been necessary.

“It basically requires somebody to file a theft report or lost property report regarding a firearm. That should go without having a law be there. A responsible gun owner should do that, regardless. We shouldn’t have to have a law that tells them to do it,” chief Paul Ferreira said Thursday.

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The measure, House Bill 720, became Act 023 when Gov. David Ige signed it into law on April 24.

Ige said the required reporting process “will increase accountability and strengthen public safety measures.”

“This will help police officers in situations involving firearm ownership and possession, and will protect firearm owners if their lost or stolen firearm was used in a crime,” the governor said at the time.

Anyone who intentionally or knowingly fails to make the required report could face petty misdemeanor or misdemeanor charges that could, upon a third conviction, lead to the loss of firearms registrations, ammunition and firearms. Offenders could also be prohibited from registering, possessing or owning a firearm.

Mayor Harry Kim submitted written testimony in favor of the bill prior to its passage, calling the measure “a fair and proper balance between the rights of gun owners and society’s interest in safety.”

“While this provision might be of limited value, since enforcement would depend upon a showing that the individual knew a firearm was missing, it is perfectly reasonable that an obligation to report be mandated, and gun owners be aware of the expectations that are placed upon them,” Kim wrote.

“I have no doubt that some will find this too onerous a restriction on their right to bear arms, but I would argue that is a perfectly reasonable obligation to impose.”

The Honolulu Police Department also supported the measure.

“We believe that a change is needed to ensure that firearms that are lost, stolen or destroyed are reported to the appropriate law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement, having knowledge of these missing firearms, will then be able to enter this information into national and local databases, disseminating their status to as many agencies as possible,” wrote Lt. Elgin Arquero of the department’s Records and Identification Division in a letter approved by Chief Susan Ballard.

Written testimony, both from firearms-related organizations and private citizens, however, overwhelmingly opposed the bill’s passage into law.

“Firearm owners voluntarily and regularly report stolen firearms to the appropriate authorities,” wrote Daniel Reid, the National Rifle Association’s western regional director. “However, the criminal penalties … could turn victims of loss into criminals and compromise cooperation with law enforcement.”

Jon Abbott, director of the Hawaii Firearms Coalition, described gun owners as “among the most law abiding citizens” in Hawaii, and added the “bill is an insult to these law abiding citizens in seeking to criminalize their failure to file a report in the midst of a profound personal crisis or disaster (theft, fire, natural disaster).”

James O’Keefe, treasurer and director of On Target Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to firearm safety and training, said Thursday the month-old law “puts a lot of burden on somebody who’s going through something that’s pretty dramatic, in the first place.”

“I think it’s unnecessarily punishing for someone who’s already the victim of a crime,” O’Keefe said. “I know that most firearms owners do report stolen firearms because they want to get their property back and they want to see whoever’s done it gets caught, so they don’t commit other crimes with (the stolen firearms). So I think there’s already an incentive for people to report stolen firearms. Making criminals out of them for not doing it within an arbitrary 24-hour window seems over-extreme to me. It’s one of the ways they’re trying to make it more difficult for firearms owners to stay in compliance with the law.”

O’Keefe and Ferreira agree most firearms owners will report stolen firearms although they come to different conclusions about the law, itself.

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“The argument that this is somehow infringing upon their rights, I don’t see it, because, as I said, most responsible gun owners would report it,” Ferreira said. “They don’t want their gun out in the street any more than anybody else does. And if their home gets burglarized, they’re going to let us know right away.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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