Hawaii gun bill aims to prevent mass shootings by seizing firearms from 'at-risk' owners

A proposal moving through the Hawaii Senate would allow law enforcement to seize firearms from owners considered “at-risk” of committing a violent crime.

The state Senate Committee on Public Safety approved Senate Bill 898 Thursday, clearing the proposal’s last hurdle before a final vote on the chamber floor.

Specifically, the legislation stipulates police can seize guns from an owner with a court order issued through an ex-parte warrant application. A hearing to determine the owner’s permanent prohibition would occur within 30 days.

The idea, bill supporters say, is to prevent tragedies involving guns — namely, mass shootings.

“This bill allows law enforcement to take preventative action in situations where information is obtained on possible attacks being planned that involve firearms,” said David Nilsen, Acting Major of the Hawaii Police Department’s Records and Identification Division, in submitted testimony last month. “In today’s environment of terrorism, particularly ‘lone wolf’ terrorists and other active shooter situations, this is a powerful tool that law enforcement can use to protect our community from these attacks.”

Attorney General Douglas Chin reiterated Nilen’s sentiments, saying the bill “fills the gap” left when certain dangerous persons don’t fit into the established categories of prohibited gun owners: convicted felons, those acquitted of a crime due to mental illness, fugitives, persons in drug treatment programs and persons who are the subjects of restraining orders.

“Upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence and upon a court order, law enforcement could remove the firearms from that person and decrease the likelihood of mass shooting incidents,” Chin said in written testimony submitted Feb. 2. “This measure allows a judge to issue a warrant to search for and seize firearms upon application by a local, state, or federal prosecuting agency. Additionally, due process is protected by requiring the court to conduct a hearing no later than thirty days after issuance of the warrant, to determine whether the firearms owner poses a serious risk of violence or harm to public safety.”

The proposal drew criticism from the National Rifle Association, state-based gun rights groups and Hawaii residents — all of whom submitted pages of testimony against the bill last month, rejecting the idea of seizing firearms not based on a crime, but rather merely “the risk of one.”

“The person subject to this warrant is not provided notice and will simply be greeted by law enforcement at their door, subjecting them to embarrassment and confusion based on their new status as a temporarily prohibited person, guilty until proven innocent,” said Dan Reid, an NRA state liaison, in testimony submitted last month. “The evidentiary standard for this hearing falls well below the criminal standard of ‘beyond and reasonable doubt’ and instead sets the standard as ‘clear and convincing,’ a standard generally used in civil cases. If the court determines that the evidentiary standard has been met, the person is permanently barred from exercising their rights.”

Pablo Wegesend, a resident who listed his position on the bill as “comments only” urged legislators to “ensure that due process is implemented for every legal procedure.”

“Due process shouldn’t be eliminated just because you want to be seen as someone ‘who does something about gun violence,’” he said.

Hawaii resident Kory Ohly, in comments submitted to the committee, accused the proposal of being a “an attempt to end-run around due process and strip away Second Amendment rights from a free citizen, possibly due to a one-sided view of firearms that only sees them as a danger to others, rather than a tool for self-defense.”

“On the practical side, it will not do what it pretends to want to do, which is protect the innocent,” he said. “Taking away a legally owned firearm is not an effective way to prevent a violent crime. People who commit illegal acts such as attempted murder don’t do so because they think the act is legal. They do so in spite of laws, because they are out to do evil. And, sadly, increasing illegalities will not stop them.”

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