By Kevin Dayton
Gov. David Ige has approved a new law that enables family members, co-workers or police to obtain court orders blocking access to firearms for people who show signs they could pose a danger to themselves or others.
When Ige signed into law as Act 150 on Wednesday, Hawaii joined 16 other states and the District of Columbia that have enacted so-called extreme risk laws, also known as "red flag" laws.
The organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which lobbied Hawaii lawmakers this year to pass the legislation, described red flag laws as part of a national "sea change on gun safety."
Senate Judiciary Chairman Karl Rhoads, a key sponsor of the bill, said the measure tries to deal with the problem of people who are law-abiding and mentally stable when they purchase firearms but later develop personal or psychiatric problems "that cause them to go on these horrible rampages that we read about."
In Hawaii, Rhoads cited the Xerox Corp. murders on Nov. 2, 1999, when Byran Uyesugi shot and killed his boss and six other employees at the company's warehouse on Nimitz Highway. Uyesugi was sentenced to life in prison.
"This won't solve all of those kinds of situations," but it will give family and co-workers a way to intervene when it becomes clear there is a problem, Rhoads said at the bill signing. "In this area, partial victories are still victories, so if we have one less mass shooting, that's a huge win, and that's why I support the legislation."
The new law creates a process for police or family members to petition Family Court for a protective order to prevent a person from accessing firearms if that person "poses a danger of causing bodily injury" to anyone, including the gun owners.
Factors that can be considered by the court include reckless or illegal use or display of a firearm, acts of violence or threats, abuse of drugs or alcohol, and violations of protective orders. Police would collect the firearms at the time the orders are served on gun owners. The law takes effect Jan. 1.
The Hawaii Rifle Association and the National Rifle Association strongly oppose the measure. HRA President Harvey Gerwig said the new law is plainly unconstitutional and that there is no evidence red flag laws have helped prevent mass shootings.
"It's completely unconstitutional," Gerwig said. "It completely violates the constitutional rights for due process -- they're just gone -- because they can come and confiscate your property without any due process, zero due process."
The new law allows the court to hold a hearing -- without the gun owner present -- where the judge can decide to temporarily confiscate the gun owner's weapons, Gerwig said. The gun owner can then demand a hearing to determine whether the firearm seizure was warranted.
"In the meantime they have confiscated your property, stripped you of your rights, with no due process whatsoever," he said.
Gerwig said he is unsure whether red flag laws have been challenged in other states, but "that potential is there. We haven't made that actual decision."
Moms Demand Action, meanwhile, showing that Indiana and Connecticut saw significant decreases in firearm suicides after passing extreme-risk laws.
Ige said he is proud that Hawaii has some of the "most rigorous" gun laws in the nation, and "I am proud that Hawaii has a commitment to safety in our community."
"I think all of us in our community believe that one tragic event is one too many, and as we've seen gun violence across the country happening over and over again in instances of schools being involved, it's very, very heart-wrenching," Ige said moments before he signed the bill.
"I think that it's common sense to allow us to temporarily prevent these individuals from having access to firearms and ammunition," Ige said. "It does not take away their basic right to own a gun, but it does, on behalf of our community, allow us to temporarily take away one's right to gun ownership."
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