Chad Blair: Hawaii Lawmakers Consider Restrictions On Electric Guns

Gun News

Just a few days before the new year I received an email from a PR consultant with Axon, formerly Taser International of Scottsdale, Arizona. Would I like to come to a training session at a Kalihi shopping center on Jan. 1, where Axon would introduce its products?

The invitation was extended because I had written a column in August on how Tasers and stun guns would become legal this year, making Hawaii the 49th state (according to Axon) to allow the self-defense products. Would the new law lead local folks 21 and older to arm themselves, I wondered.

I took a pass on the training, but there was a lot of interest, as Hawaii News Now reported.

“There has been a lot of questions on what people want from the device,” said Raymond Craig, a former cop who just started up Smart Training Hawaii, a business that focuses on training and stun gun education. “And they want it for the right reasons.”

That same law — part of Hawaii Revised Statutes 134 that regulates firearms, ammunition and dangerous weapons — is now being considered for amendment to specify exactly where a Taser or stun gun — also known as electric guns — can be used. It’s an illustration of how new laws are rarely perfect, so lawmakers have to tweak them from time to time, and sometimes even repeal them.

Todd Yukuyake testified Tuesday at the Hawaii Legislature against two bills regulating electric guns.
Todd Yukutake testified Tuesday at the Hawaii Legislature against two bills regulating electric guns. Screenshot/2022

House Bill 1732, as currently proposed, would prohibit most people — other than law enforcement personnel and members of the Army or Air National Guard involved in emergency relief activities — from carrying an electric gun “in or near certain sensitive locations,” with exceptions.

That list of places initially identified as “sensitive” included: in or near an airport, passenger transportation terminal, commuter operations areas, state or county government buildings or any meeting place required to be open to the public for government meetings.

The latest draft of HB 1732, which awaits decision-making in the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday morning, is more specific as to where electric guns would not be allowed:

  • a public school including any building, grounds, facility or parking structure;
  • a nonresidential building owned, leased or controlled by the state or county, including Iolani Palace, the state Capitol, an office building, a library, a college, a court of law, a stadium or an arena;
  • an airport including any terminal, building, structure, facility or parking structure;
  • a public mass transit vehicle, mass transit terminal or transit center, except for a bus stop that is located on a public sidewalk; and
  • a government meeting place required to be open to the public.

My read of the latest draft is that people who are lawfully allowed to have electric guns could take them to just about anywhere else, including a public park or beach.

HB 1732 drew reams of written opposition testimony, including from Todd Yukutake, a security guard who spoke directly to Senate Judiciary on Tuesday. He argued that the new restrictions would only hurt the “good people” who want to defend themselves but help the “bad guys” commit crimes, especially in high crime areas.

In his written testimony, Yukutake elaborated: “There are homeless, drug addicts, crazy people and criminals everywhere and these people have to walk the gauntlet undefended. I do the same by walking a half mile to my car late at night or catching the bus home.”

My guess is there is more work to be done on HB 1732. Can electric guns be brought to hospitals, for example? Day cares? Care homes?

What About Committing Robberies?

Hawaii was not exactly clamoring for electric guns. The Legislature approved the legislation and the governor signed it into law only because the state’s ban was constitutionally in question due to recent court rulings. So now we have electric guns in the islands.

Tasers and stun guns, if you don’t know, are handheld devices that administer an electric shock. Tasers shoot small projectiles that attach to an attacker, sending electric current through their body, while stun guns emit an electric charge and, therefore, can only be used if an attacker is close by.

Could an electric gun, like this one in a Hawaii News Now report, be used to commit crimes?
Could an electric gun, like this one shown in a recent Hawaii News Now report, be used to commit crimes? Screenshot/2022

Which brings me to another bill stemming from the legalization of electric guns: House Bill 1455. It comes at the request of the Honolulu Police Department and it would amend the offense of robbery in the first degree to include being armed with — wait for it! — an electric gun. The statute specifically refers to stealing motor vehicles.

“Electric guns can cause severe pain and completely incapacitate a person,” according to the latest draft of the bill, which is advancing. “Criminals will begin to use these devices against others to facilitate crimes as they become more prevalent in the community.”

And that is something that I also wondered about when electric guns were approved for Hawaii. They are generally not seen as lethal, but it seems obvious that they have offensive as well as defensive possibilities.

‘Stand Your Ground’

The electric gun bills remains alive even as another, higher profile measure on self-protection was shelved earlier this month at the Legislature.

Described as Hawaii’s version of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people in homes who feel threatened to stay and use or threaten to use force, House Bill 2464 called for clarifying when the use of deadly force is justified.

The arguments for and against essentially boiled down to helping protect potential victims versus increasing the potential for gun violence. Proponents included the Hawaii Firearms Coalition and the National Rifle Association of Hawaii, while Everytown for Gun Safety opposed it.

A perceived rise in crime influenced some supporters.

Sen. Karl Rhoads approved HB 1455 Tuesday and will decide on HB 1732 Thursday.
Sen. Karl Rhoads and the Judiciary Committee approved HB 1455 Tuesday and will decide on HB 1732 Thursday. Rhoads is author of the Senate version of HB 1732. Screenshot/2022

“Recent headlines have continued to demonstrate the need for our community to be able to protect itself,” testified Michael Kitchens of Stolen Stuff Hawaii. “Not only while in our homes and workplaces, but anywhere we may frequent.”

Others said HB 2464 would have the opposite impact.

“It has been shown in other states to be an inherently biased law where people of color are more likely to be killed and if the shooter is not a person of color then there is a better chance of not being convicted,” testified Janie Bryan of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America. “This is basically a shoot first and ask questions later stance with no requirement to retreat in the face of danger.”

Question: Can an electric gun be used to defend a private residence? Probably.

I suspect the interest in having a Stand Your Ground law will not go away. The debate over guns continues even as Hawaii ranks second-highest for its gun safety measures, has the lowest rate for overall gun violence and has the fourth-lowest gun ownership — 14.9% of adults in Hawaii have guns at home.

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