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Federal court of appeals ruled Hawaii's gun law violates constitutional rights

HILO (KHON2) - Overturning Hawaii's gun control law? That could be a possibility after a court ruling Tuesday.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 2nd Amendment provides the right to openly carry a gun in public for self-defense.

The panel found that Hawaii was violating a Big Island man's constitutional rights by denying him a permit to openly carry a gun. George Young filed the suit against Hawaii County in 2012.

"The 9th Circuit looked at the history and the history demonstrates that the 2nd Amendment right applies to self-defense outside the home," said George Young's Attorney Alan Beck. 

We reached out to the state Attorney General's office for comment. 

"We don't have a right to take an appeal because we're not a party. Hawaii County is a party. We are going to be speaking to Hawaii County shortly, urging them to seek an appeal," said Deputy Attorney General Kevin Takata. "If this decision stands, more people can walk down the street with a gun strapped to their hip.  That's not the type of Hawaii I would like to be in." 

We're told Hawaii County has 14 days to appeal the decision. For now. the Attorney General's office tells us it's status quo for the state's gun laws because there will probably be another appeal. 

In Hawaii gun owners are only allowed to carry their guns in their homes or businesses. It's up to the police chief to grant permits to openly carry a loaded gun in public, but those permits have never been issued except to individuals like law enforcement officials. 

Harvey Gerwig of the Hawaii Rifle Association tells us the police chiefs have no criteria for who gets a permit and who doesn't.

"The only criteria that should be put in place is I want this for my self protection and the protection of my family," said Gerwig. 

This federal appeals court decision has now opened the possibility to allow more people to openly carry loaded guns. 

"If there is not an appeal, there's a federal mandate. Start issuing permits," said Gerwig. 

Imua Alliance, an organization that supports strict gun laws, says this ruling is disheartening.

"We don't think that more guns being carried in public throughout society makes anybody safer. We think more guns make people less safe. All you have to do is see across the nation how that's played out," said Kris Coffield of Imua Alliance. "We feel very strongly that open carry just incites an arms race. So when you have more people carryimg guns in public then you are going to have more people carrying in response."

UH Law Professor Ken Lawson tells us state lawmakers will have to set some standards for police chiefs.

"If this opinion holds, Hawaii is going to have to create a law... when you do apply to meet certain standards and someone can't subjectively, with no objective criteria, say no I'm not granting you an application," said Professor Lawson. 

This ruling was made by a panel of 3 judges. Hawaii County officials could appeal to all the judges on the 9th Circuit Court which could overturn the decision.

There's also a possibility of taking this to the U.S. Supreme Court, but recently the High Court has not taken any cases on gun rights.

"The last few years they have not; however, because the 9th Circuit now differs with other circuits, the U.S. Supreme Court may take it in order to ask the question so there is uniformity amongst all 50 states," said Lawson. 

We spoke to Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim who says he personally would like to see Tuesday's decision overruled, but because this deals with state law, county officials will consult with the Attorney General. 


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