Hawaii is a liberal state. Despite being heavily Catholic, it was the first state to legalize abortion. There is no death penalty, or even life sentences. Labor unions still wield considerable power. The Democratic Party enjoys one of its most solid majorities in the country. Most of the few Republicans in elected office are barely to the right of the Democrats.
But there is discontent in the air.
The first sign of rebellion came in the wake of the state supreme court decision that opened the door for possible gay “marriages.” The court ruled that the state constitution did not bar these unions. If Hawaii wanted to continue to recognize only marriages between a man and a woman, the law would have to be changed or clarified. The legislature was squeamish about changing the constitution, and there were the usual accusations of “homophobia” and “bigotry” directed at those who defended traditional marriages. The politicians thought that the enlightened people of Hawaii would support granting new rights to homosexuals. They were wrong.
In 1998, the issue was put on the ballot. Voters were asked if the legislature should change the wording of the constitution to ensure that marriage remained a heterosexual institution. Despite Hawaii’s reputation for “tolerance” and all the money that poured in from out-of-state gay activists to defeat the initiative, over 75 percent of voters favored amending the law to recognize only traditional marriages.
Over the past year, the state legislature has further provoked popular anger. One concerned lawmaker, apparently under the misguided impression that state employees are under too much stress, proposed a law mandating snack and nap time for local public-sector workers. Although Hawaii is historically very pro-union (which made the quest for statehood that much harder during the Red Scare of the 1950’s), the letters sections of Honolulu’s two daily newspapers were swamped with correspondence from angry readers ridiculing the ludicrous proposal.
Another bill sought to make organ-harvesting mandatory. Even the director of Hawaii’s organ bank was appalled. Again, a flood of letters protested the bill. If the state can take your body parts, what can’t it claim? Does liberty mean anything to would-be heart and eye grabbers?
Apparently not. In that same session, the Hawaii legislature was filled with proposals for restrictive and unconstitutional gun laws. Much to the surprise of lawmakers, Hawaii’s supporters of the Second Amendment got angry—and for good reason.
Consider the following proposals: Mandatory re-registration of firearms every five years; mandatory “safe-storage” of all firearms in a commercial gun safe; forcing medical personnel to provide the police chief with the names of patients seeking psychiatric care or counseling so the chief could confiscate the patients’ guns (doctor-patient privilege, anyone?); restricting ammunition sales to those who can prove they have a legally registered firearm in that particular caliber; banning individuals who have sold a gun from buying a new one for ten years; creating a “firearm-owner identification card”; and, of course, outlawing the sale and ownership of all handguns. It was enough to make Sen. Charles Schumer take out an NRA membership.
A bill to make it easier for citizens to carry concealed weapons was also introduced, but it went nowhere. Technically, Hawaii has concealed-carry permits, but they are only issued to civilians at the discretion of their local police chief. About a dozen people in the islands—out of a population of over one million—have a permit.
Most of the gun-control bills were introduced in response to a shooting spree at the Honolulu Xerox building. Yet the only proposed legislation that could have prevented the Xerox killings was the bill liberalizing the issuance of concealed-carry permits. Even with the Xerox incident, gun deaths are rare in Hawaii. The state ranks 49th in overall gun deaths and 44th in firearm-related homicides. In any given year, about 24 people are murdered in Hawaii; about six of those homicides are committed with a gun.
Hawaiian gunowners have been through this before. A previous attempt to ban handguns in the early 1990’s was defeated, but a law was passed making it mandatory for anyone buying a handgun to go through a minimum of six hours of training. The waiting period for handgun purchases in Hawaii is two weeks. The ten-round capacity limit on semi-automatic pistols was in effect long before the Brady Bill. All new guns are registered with the state.
Despite all the laws restricting the right of Hawaii’s people to keep and bear arms, the state has a very lively firearms community. On any weekend, you can go to the Koko Head public shooting range and find sportsmen from every walk of life. It is always busy, and you can easily wait an hour for a firing line to open up. All of the state’s prestigious private schools, such as Kamehameha, St. Louis, and Punahou, have teams that compete in small-bore rifle tournaments. Apparently, someone at these schools understands that a child with a gun in his hand is not always a psychotic monster.
Tourists who never venture far beyond Waikiki don’t realize how rural large parts of Hawaii are. Go to an outer island like Kauai or the Big Island, and you will see farms and old pickup trucks with “Keep the Country Country!” bumper stickers. Better yet, go to Molokai, an island with no fast-food restaurants, no traffic lights, and just a single stop sign. People live off the land, and that often means venturing into the mountains, hunting for game birds, mountain sheep, or the wild boars Hawaii is known for. The same can be said for those Oahuans who live far from the hustle and bustle, in places like Makaha or the North Shore, Not everyone who throws a luau buys his pork from Safeway, and not everyone lives in a Honolulu high-rise where gun ownership is déclassé.
When the gun-control activists launched their latest attacks, the firearms community defended itself Republican State Sen. Sam Slom brought in John Lott, author of the definitive More Guns, Less Crime, to speak to the legislature about the benefits of concealed-carry laws and the dangers and ineffectiveness of many of the proposed gun-control measures. Renowned civilian and law-enforcement trainer Chuck Taylor sat in on one of the proceedings. (Shocked by the strong anti- gun rhetoric of Honolulu Police Department Major John Kerr, Taylor commented, “You guys got a problem here. It’s your cops.”) At open hearings, nine times as many citizens showed up to oppose the gun-control bills as did to support them. Of course, the Senate Judiciary Committee report described the anti-gun partisans as “rational and extremely sane” while the pro-gun-rights people were dismissed as “very opinionated.” But most letter writers to the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star- Bulletin supported gun rights, in contrast to the editorial stance of both newspapers.
Did all this work on behalf of the Second Amendment pay off? Amazingly, it did. None of the really repressive guncontrol measures became law, and a movement of farmers, blue-collar workers, ex-military personnel, and other everyday citizens defeated a scheme hatched by politicians and bureaucrats. It was a great victory for liberty.
Hawaii’s citizens have had to swallow a lot of nonsense over the past 50 years. As the battle over gun rights shows, they might have had their fill.
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