BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN– Hawaii firearms registrations shot up more than 70 percent in 2012, while gun violence continued a four-year decline, according to a new state Department of the Attorney General report.
“While there has been a tremendous increase in firearm registration activity in Hawaii since 2000, the annual trends for both the number of firearm-related violent crimes and the proportion of violent crimes involving firearms relative to other weapon types remained stable within a low and narrow range through 2007, and decreased substantially from 2008 through 2012, during which time registration activity increased the most sharply,” the Department of the Attorney concluded.
Officials processed a record 21,864 state and county firearm permits in 2012, the report found. One year before, that number was 15,375.
Hawaii law allows multiple long guns to be registered under one permit. That brought the total number of firearms registered in 2012 to 50,394, a 73 percent increase from the previous record high of 36,804 firearms registered in 2011.
Alan Gottlieb, spokesperson for the Second Amendment Foundation, said Hawaii’s increase in firearms permits mirrors what is happening all across the country.
“Gun and ammunition sales as well as the number of permits to carry firearms has exploded. This happens every time there is a move to restrict or ban firearms like we are seeing today,” Gottlieb said.
Some 94.1 percent of those who applied for a permit were issued one. Another 4.9 percent had permits approved but voided after failing to return on time to pick them up. Just 1 percent were actually disqualified.
Over half or 127 of the denials last year were due to applicants’ prior criminal convictions, 25 were due to pending charges, and 75 were not based on the criminal histories of the applicants.
An estimated 23,548 or 46.7 percent of the firearms registered during 2012 were imported, with the remainder of 26,846, or 53.3 percent from transfers of firearms already registered here, the AG report said.
Over the last 13 years, from 2000 through 2012, state statistics show a continuous rise in firearms ownership. Statewide permit applications processed annually climbed 336.9 percent, while the number of firearms registered soared by 370.1 percent, and firearms imported climbed 325 percent. County permit applications followed the same trend, the report said.
“Our Hawaii rate of denial of permits 1 percent, lower than other states which are at 1.8 to 2.5 percent, indicates our Hawaii law-abiding gun owners are just that,” said Dr. Max Cooper, the legislative liaison for the Hawaii Rifle Association. “A small group of criminals still try to get a permit or register, about 200 per year, with only some arrests and prosecutions, although a felony is committed in a police station with signatures of the criminals to prove it, so we need better enforcement.”
“I wonder how many of those 200 people were prosecuted by the police for the felony they committed when they falsified their personal information? What is the purpose of passing even more laws when the current ones are not enforced? HRA has been on record for many years saying that we need more enforcement of our existing laws, not new ones.The presumed lack of prosecution of those 200 people a year that perjure themselves on the gun registration forms seem to suggest we’ve been right all along,” Cooper added.
Hawaii has among the strictest firearms laws in the nation. However, there are likely more firearms in the state than its 1.3 million residents.
Paul Perrone, Chief of Research & Statistics for the attorney general’s office, said there were about 1.5 million firearms in Hawaii in the 1990s and while there is not an exact count now, the number has continued to increase substantially.
Hawaii does have a concealed carry law, however it allows the four county police chiefs to decide if they “shall issue” a concealed carry permit.
That’s an extremely rare occurrence, gun-rights advocates maintain.
“Four private citizens applied for a concealed carry license in the City & County of Honolulu, and one applied in Maui County, and all five were denied at the discretion of the respective county police chief. Some 168 employees of private security firms were issued carry licenses while two were denied,” the report said.
To become a registered gun owner in Hawaii takes patience and commitment, according to Cooper.
On Oahu, there is just one location to obtain a firearms permit – at the Honolulu Police Department’s main station — and firearms owners have told Hawaii Reporter they have waited as many as nine hours in line just to fill out or turn in paperwork.
To register a handgun, Hawaii law dictate firearms owners must return to the station three times and to the store where they bought the handgun twice. Some people have opted to wait in line from midnight until the station opens its doors. The Hawaii Rifle Association has launched an online petition to ask the city council to add additional locations and staffing for permit processing.
“Only six to eight officers and employees are available to staff the Honolulu Beretania St. firearms desk, during shortened business hours only, and only one person each for the other counties. The police officers and civilian employees are working as hard as they can, but the public is under-served,” Cooper said.
Similarly, Hawaii has limited places for firearms owners to practice shooting. For the island of Hawaii, lawmakers are considering appropriations for a new rifle and pistol range in Kona. Cooper said he hopes funding will be approved since the Big Island has no public range.
Kauai county also lacks any public rifle and pistol ranges, Cooper said. He said Oahu’s only range, Koko Head Range Complex, has likewise suffered from budget cuts and needs repairs and capital improvements. Because of heavy use, Oahu also needs a second range, Cooper said.
Cooper said the dramatic upswing in gun ownership points to the urgent need for more ranges.
“This is the only aspect of the criminal justice and public safety systems that has seen this kind of increase in activity, and range availability and development and county registration and permits capacity is paradoxically absent or reduced,” Cooper said.
Read the full report from the AG’s Crime Prevention and Justice Assistance Division at https://ag.hawaii.gov/cpja/rs/