Proposed "sensitive places" law scaled back after public outcry

Mark Humphrey

When Hawaii County lawmakers held their first public hearing on an ordinance restricting where concealed carry holders can exercise their right to keep and bear arms, they heard from dozens of gun owners and residents who complained that the proposal was far too broad and infringed on their Second Amendment rights. Somewhat surprisingly, several county council members expressed reservations of their own, and the bill was tabled for a few weeks while tweaks were made.

Today, the public got its first look at the revised proposal, and while the measure still contains several “gun-free zones” that aren’t likely to stand up to court scrutiny, this is the first blue-state response to the Supreme Court’s decision in NYSRPA v. Bruen that I’ve seen that at least half-heartedly recognizes the right to bear arms for self-defense in public rather than attempting to regulate it out of existence.

The original list of “sensitive places” outlined in the county’s concealed carry ordinance bore a close resemblance to the expansive number of “gun-free zones” included in New York’s “Concealed Carry Improvement Act”, hospitals and healthcare facilities; schools (both K-12 and colleges and universities) and day care centers, playgrounds and parks, all houses of worship, public transit, private property “open to the public”, and all businesses that serve alcohol among them.

The newly revised proposal removes many of those “gun-free zones” outright, while modifying others.

[Council Vice Chairman Aaron] Chung’s amendment, which had input from the Hawai‘i Police Department, adds a clause saying guns would be prohibited except where permission is granted at schools, colleges, universities or places where people are assembled for educational purposes. It removes language that originally included where people are assembled for literary or scientific purposes as well. The same clause was added in reference to day care centers, but playgrounds, parks and/or other places where children gather remain in the proposed bill.

I don’t think the ban on parks and playgrounds is going to hold up in court, given that there’s no evidence the state of Hawaii or Hawaii County treats them as “sensitive” in any way. There are no metal detectors or fences surrounding all parks, and no dedicated police presence at all parks or playgrounds either.

As I said, the new bill isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s still a substantial improvement.

It removes “any” churches, instead prohibiting carrying firearms at churches except where permission is granted by the administrator of the church facility or congregation.

The amendment also removes places where people are assembled for an event, social gathering, rally, demonstration or public exhibition that requires a permit and bars, restaurants and establishments that serve intoxicating beverages, which would be covered by the private property open to the public clause.

It took out courthouses and judiciary buildings, since they are government buildings, which remain in the measure. It also removed accompanying parking lots attached to those buildings.

The amendment also changes the wording surrounding private property open to the public to say the prohibition would be applied to places where it is conspicuously posted that the public carrying of firearms is not allowed.

When it comes to private property, the Hawaii County Council has basically reversed its earlier position. Instead of banning guns from private property by default as originally planned, concealed carry would be allowed by default with property owners (in most circumstances) given the option to opt-out. That’s a major improvement to the original bill, and it’s in line with the practice in the vast majority of other states.

Banning concealed carry from all government buildings, however, is still far too broad and is likely to encompass locations that aren’t “sensitive” by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve not been able to find a copy of the amended bill, but if the prohibition on concealed carry on public transit is also still included in the proposed ordinance, that’s another deficiency that will likely face a court challenge.

I don’t think the Hawaii County Council got it quite right, but some credit is due for what looks like an honest attempt to reckon with the fact that the right to bear arms is real and must be respected. Given what we’ve seen in places like New York, New Jersey, and California in the wake of the Bruen decision, this is a very positive sign. Unfortunately, this is a county ordinance, and state lawmakers may very well try to impose New York-style “gun-free zones” all across the islands when the legislature convenes in January. I have no doubt that the same folks who turned out in large numbers to oppose Hawaii County’s proposed restrictions will be happy to testify at the state capitol, but I’m not nearly as confident that the Democrats who hold a supermajority in both chambers will be as willing to listen as their county counterparts.