Hawaii stun gun ban ends Jan. 1

  • FERREIRA

Hawaii Police Department Chief Paul Ferreira said law enforcers are “gearing up” for Jan. 1, 2022, when most private citizens 21 or older will be allowed to possess and carry a Taser or electric stun gun.

“We’re discussing how it’s going to be handled with all the departments across the state, as well as the (attorney general), so we’re uniform in our policies across the state — similar to what we do with firearms registrations,” Ferreira said Tuesday.

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The new law, part of Gov. David Ige’s legislative package for this year’s session, puts the onus on dealers, who will have to be licensed to sell and distribute Tasers or stun guns.

The difference between the two weapons is that a stun gun administers an electric shock through direct contact with the instrument itself, while the Taser delivers the shock through thin, flexible wires connected to two probes the user fires into the target.

The Taser can fire up to 25 feet with an effective range of about 15 feet.

Tasers and stun guns are almost always nonlethal and seldom have long-term effects on those who receive the shocks.

However, the international news agency Reuters reported in a Feb. 4, 2019, article it had “documented a total of at least 1,081 U.S. deaths following use of Tasers, almost all since the weapons began coming into widespread use in the early 2000s.”

In many of those cases, the Taser was combined with other force, such as hand strikes or restraint holds, Reuters reported.

Currently, only law enforcement officers plus Army and Air National Guard personnel assisting with law enforcement duties are legally allowed to carry stun guns or Tasers in Hawaii.

While there is no requirement for police departments to register the weapons, Ferreira said, it’s “left up to the county to monitor” those who sell the electric weapons to ensure compliance with the law.

“It’s going to be handled at the dealer’s level,” he said. “They have to make the check of the person who’s purchasing the stun gun.”

According to the law, the state’s hand in eliminating the ban was forced by the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016), which vacated the conviction of a woman who carried a stun gun for self-defense.

Also mentioned in written testimony by state Attorney General Clare Connors is the case of Andrew Namiki Roberts, who filed a federal lawsuit against former Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard and others for denying him a stun gun to defend himself, his daughter, home and business. That case is still active.

The new law makes it illegal for a person to use an electric gun except for self-defense, defense of another person, and protection of property.

It also makes it illegal to “sell, distribute or otherwise transfer an electric gun or cartridge” without a license to do so, or to sell or otherwise transfer an electric gun to anyone under 21.

In addition, the law prohibits anyone convicted of or currently charged with a felony, a crime of violence or the illegal sale of drugs to own or possess an electric gun. Also barred from possessing a stun gun is anyone who has been treated or counseled for substance abuse, including alcohol, acquitted of a crime due to mental incapacity, or has been diagnosed as having a significant behavioral, emotional or mental disorder.

Some violations of the stun gun law are classified as a Class C felony punishable by up to five years imprisonment, upon conviction, while others are misdemeanors carrying a potential one-year jail sentence.

Carrying or use of an electric gun in the commission of a separate felony is a Class B felony, punishable by up to 10 years behind bars, upon conviction.

Ferreira said the carrying of electric guns by citizens will “add, literally, another challenge for officers” when apprehending suspects, although he added he can’t recall any time one was used in the commission of a separate crime in Hawaii County.

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According to Taser.com, the only states with complete bans of electric guns are Hawaii and Rhode Island, although some municipalities also ban their possession and use.

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

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