Hawaii County Council members object to sweeping "sensitive places" proposal

AP Photo/Martha Irvine

I have to say, I didn’t see this coming. Hawaii is one of the most anti-gun states in the country, legislatively speaking at least, and when the Hawaii County Council sat down on Tuesday to go over a proposed list of “sensitive places” based largely on New York’s laundry list of “gun-free zones” approved after the Supreme Court overturned New York’s “may issue” carry laws this year, I fully expected council members to give the proposal their stamp of approval with little debate or discussion.

Instead, a majority of the council members in attendance agreed with many of the gun owners who showed up to testify that the list is far too broad and needs to be whittled down substantially.

The list includes hospitals, schools, daycare centers and parks, churches, voter service centers, airports and public transit vehicles, establishments that serve alcohol, government buildings and private property that is open to the public, unless posted.

“It’s pretty well every place in this county,” said Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder. “If the point is to let the people protect themselves … slimming down this list would be more in line with what I am willing to support.”

… Kanealii-Kleinfelder noted that the Puna district has just eight to 10 police officers per shift, covering a region the size of Oahu.

“If there was a strong enough police department, I would say I know that someone is there to protect me,” he said.

Fellow Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz agreed. She noted the overwhelming testimony from residents opposing the bill, including Bunnie Harrington, a sexual assault survivor who has completed requirements for a concealed carry permit.

“Why do we protect so many important people and things with guns but not our children or ourselves?” Harrington said. “Criminals are who we are wanting to protect ourselves from. This bill hinders law-abiding citizens from protecting ourselves. Criminals don’t care about laws.”

Kierkiewicz was sympathetic.

“I want Bunnie to be able to protect herself. We’ve got eight officers in Puna. It’s like the wild West out there,” Kierkiewicz said. “If I were forced to vote on what we have today, I would be opposed.”

Pretty amazing, right? This sounds more like some of the recent comments from elected officials in many counties in upstate New York than the typical anti-gun rhetoric espoused by many Hawaiian politicians; though to be fair there was at least one county council member who repeated the stale talking points of the gun control lobby.

Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball was the only clear supporter of the bill as it is currently written. She “fundamentally disagreed” that the community is safer when more people are packing heat.

“I think this is right on the money. … I think that this is important protection for our community,” Kimball said. “I do want everyone to carefully consider the difference between personal protection and vigilantism.”

Sure thing. The difference between the two is that we have a constitutionally protected right to bear arms in self-defense. We don’t have a right to vigilantism. But you also don’t stop violent crime by making it impossible for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves, which is exactly what the proposed list of “sensitive places” would do.

A vote on the proposed bill has been delayed until October 18th, and we’ll be watching closely to see just how many of the gun-free zones are removed from the initial list. I don’t know if the council would have had this same reaction if gun owners and Second Amendment supporters had not turned out in large numbers to testify in opposition to the bill, but I have a feeling their presence had an impact. Good things happen when we get engaged and involved, and while we have a long way to go before the right to keep and bear arms is given its full weight in anti-gun states like Hawaii, the grassroots activists are doing their part to ensure that their rights are recognized and respected.