Hawaii Governor David Ige signed three gun law reform bills into law Thursday, putting the state ahead of the rest of the nation in ensuring its residents are safe from gun violence. One law in particular also specifically addresses the intersection of gun violence and domestic violence.
One of the new laws prevents anyone with stalking or sexual assault convictions from owning or operating any firearm and possessing ammunition, citing known links to domestic violence and gun violence. Federal laws on gun ownership do not adequately address the added risks women face for gun violence in domestic violence situations, and fall short of qualifying some forms of relationship violence—including stalking—as “domestic violence.” In this way, Hawaii’s new law could be a powerful launching point for much-needed reforms being fought for in both chambers of Congress that would expand current laws to keep more women safe from violent abusers. Another new law gives police the authority to seize firearms if the owner has been deemed a threat due to mental or emotional health issues.
The third new law in the package also makes Hawaii the first state to require gun owners to register their names to a criminal-record-monitoring service. Gun owners in Hawaii were previously required to register their guns, but with the passage of this bill an FBI database known as Rap Back will now automatically alert law enforcement if a gun owner is arrested for any reason—either in or out of Hawaii. Law enforcement will then be able to evaluate the situation to determine if the individual would still legally be allowed to possess firearms.
The new law in Hawaii comes on the heels of a historic protest on the House floor by congressional Democrats demanding action on gun control, and it goes beyond federal law to protect Hawaiians from gun violence. Despite the recent mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando that killed 49 and wounded over 50 other patrons—primarily queer Latinx individuals—Senate Republicans recently blocked efforts to amend existing gun laws and tighten restrictions on firearm possession. As of December 2015, Hawaii had the lowest number of fatalities from gun violence of any U.S. state. Hawaii government officials and the Honolulu Police Department are optimistic that this bill could influence further gun reform in other states.
Predictably, many gun rights groups are opposing this measure, saying it unfairly exposes citizens to scrutiny from the government. “This is about our community’s safety and responsible gun ownership,” Gov. Ige responded in a statement on Friday. “This system will better enable our law enforcement agencies to ensure the security of all Hawaii residents and visitors to our islands.”