When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 100-year-old New York state law in June that required a license to carry a concealed firearm in public—and which limited them to individuals who could demonstrate a heightened need for self defense—it sent ripples across the nation, all the way across the Pacific to Hawaiʻi. Seven states, including ours, have similar laws, all of which are now subject to challenge. And the collective population of those states equals roughly one-quarter of all Americans.
The Court’s ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen represents the widest expansion of gun rights in a decade. Prior precedent (District of Columbia v. Heller) held that states should weigh two criteria when considering gun legislation—whether the regulated conduct was protected by the Second Amendment, and if it was, whether the state’s reasons for enacting the law outweighed the burden created by the restriction. In the 6-3 Bruen decision, Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, held that the states had been delegated too much discretion under Heller and that, barring specific reasons for denial, the Second Amendment right to carry a weapon extends beyond the home, regardless of perceived risk.
Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent was joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor and focused on the nation’s sobering number of gun deaths.
Thomas’ majority decision states that, in order to pass gun restrictions, “the government must affirmatively prove that its firearms regulation is part of the historical tradition.” In other words, there can be no new gun restrictions, regardless of the new and novel types of guns that exist today.
The result is that police departments in Hawai’i, which are charged with issuing concealed-carry permits, have faced a flood of new applicants. The first such permit issued in Maui County caused an uproar on social media—until it was revealed that it had been issued to a police officer for their personal firearm. Prior to the Bruen ruling, Hawai’i police chiefs issued only six carry permits in 21 years. When MPD issued the state’s first since the June ruling, another 185 applications were already awaiting review. In 2021, Maui County had a record number of firearms registered (8,149) and firearms imported (3,763), according to a report by the Hawai’i Dept. of the Attorney General.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in a concurrence joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, noted that the Second Amendment allows some gun-safety regulations, including bans on weapons in “sensitive areas” such as schools and churches. In a bit of a silver lining, Bruen expanded that list of sensitive places to include polling places, legislative bodies, and courthouses. But the Court did not define “sensitive places” or include other locations prone to large, vulnerable crowds, like protests, concerts, or public transportation.
The ruling does not affect the state law requiring that all firearms be registered with the police department within five days of being acquired, and that their owners be fingerprinted.
Maui County has also established a shooting proficiency test score requirement, which, like a criminal background check, still seems to be allowed under the Court’s latest ruling. Oahu State Senator Chris Lee (D) wants more than just a test. “If people are going to be able to carry weapons openly, they’ve got to be trained,” he said. “The same kind of training that law enforcement has. How to handle weapons properly, how not to incite or escalate violence, how to de-escalate situations, how to act and react when law enforcement is present. They have to be aware…and not add to the risk.”