Court: Hawaii's restrictions on handguns in public unconstitutio - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Court: Hawaii's restrictions on handguns in public unconstitutional

Hawaii has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. (Image: Hawaii News Now/File) Hawaii has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. (Image: Hawaii News Now/File)
BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the Constitution protects the right to openly carry a gun in public for self-defense, rejecting Hawaii's claims that the right to carry only applies to firearms kept at home.

In a 2-to-1 decision, the court reversed a ruling by federal District Judge Helen Gillmor that upheld Hawaii's restrictions, considered among the toughest in the nation. Hawaii-based 9th Circuit Judge Richard Clifton was the lone dissenter.

The case originated on the Big Island, and could be appealed to a larger panel of 9th Circuit judges.

In 2011, Hilo resident and Vietnam veteran George K. Young, Jr. applied twice for a license to carry a handgun, but Hawaii County's police chief denied it each time because Young didn’t meet the state’s licensing rules that generally require people to keep their guns at home.

The panel ruled that Hawaii law violated the Second Amendment, saying, “The right to bear arms must guarantee some right to self-defense in public.”

"I was very happy," said Young. "The Constitution says the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed and yet the state law intervenes."

Clifton, in his dissenting opinion, said Hawaii's law falls within the discretion given states to make their own decisions about public safety and that restrictions on openly carrying firearms have a long history and are allowed. The Supreme Court has previously ruled the right to bear arms is not absolute. 

Hawaii's law restricts open carry permits only to people involved in law enforcement or security except under "exceptional" cases.

In arguments before the 9th Circuit panel, Hawaii County Deputy Corporation Counsel Kaena Horowitz was forced by the judges to admit that Hawaii County (and likely the state's other counties) had never issued an open carry permit to anyone other than professional security guards.

"That made the argument a lot easier," said Alan Beck, Young's attorney.

Beck, a San Diego attorney who took the case without compensation, said the lawsuit wouldn't have been necessary if the counties had similar regulations as other jurisdictions, which allow open carry with conditions, like background checks and training requirements. 

The Hawaii laws have been appealed before; this is the first time the appeals court has ruled to overturn them. 

Horowitz said the county is considering its options for appeal.

"Its unfortunate," Horowitz said. "It invalidates Hawaii law that was designed to protect the safety and well being of the people of Hawaii. "Carrying firearms in public clearly poses a significant danger to the safety of our community and greatly increases the risk that police officers have to confront."

Young's attorney said that Hawaii would actually be safer now.

"This ruling only applies to people like my client who are law-abiding members of society," said Beck.

Gun rights advocates had hoped the ruling would also allow the concealed carry of firearms.

"The open carry - while we're delighted about it - but open carry everybody can see who has a gun and who doesn't. So in this case, if we only had open carry then anyone without a gun on their hip is going to be a crime target," said Harvey Gerwig, president of the Hawaii Rifle Association.

The case was sent back to the District Court, which must re-hear the case based on the instructions from the appeals court.

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