Thursday, November 4, 1999



Hawaii still called
‘safest place’

Officials feel the tragedy was
too far from Waikiki to dissuade
visitors from Japan from
coming here

Bullet Gun control issue
Bullet More coverage

By Susan Kreifels


As news of the Xerox shootings in Honolulu spread through Japan yesterday, tourism officials in Tokyo said it was still too early to predict what impact the tragedy would have on tourism. But they didn't believe it would hurt much.

"The shooting is shocking news but it happened far from the Waikiki area, so I don't think there is such big a problem," said Shoichi Suzuki, director and general manager of administration at JTB Hawaii Inc.

Suzuki said Hawaii remains the No. 1 destination for Japanese tourists because of the climate, hospitality, safe environment and facilities.

But Toshiko Kato, managing chief of public affairs at Japan Association of Travel Agents, said it's too early to tell how tourists will react. So far she has received no word from travel agents.

"They still consider Hawaii the safest place," Kato said.

News of American violence plays big in Japan, where citizens cannot legally own guns. Hawaii has some of the strictest gun-control laws of all states.

Politicians were quick in trying to dispel any image problems to the Aloha State after seven men were shot and killed at a Xerox Corp. office on Nimitz Highway Tuesday, allegedly by a fellow employee. That Xerox office is located in an industrial area several miles from Waikiki, Oahu's premier tourist destination.

Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris said such violence was not typical here and quoted Honolulu's low violent crime rates. Fire and police officials repeated that message.

The FBI listed Honolulu as the least violent of the nation's 20 largest cities last year. The state capital saw the lowest number of murders, rapes and aggravated assaults.

Hawaii sees 6.7 million tourists a year, who generate $11.6 billion in revenues and make tourism the state's top industry. About 2 million tourists are Japanese. But the number of Asian visitors has dropped in recent years because of the economic crisis in that region.

A spate of purse-snatchings and rising crimes against Japanese tourists in 1996 brought warnings from tourism officials in Japan that the islands' image of tranquility could be shattered if the trends continued.

Those crimes mainly occurred in Waikiki.

That same year, Japan's consul general, Kishichiro Amae, asked local officials to initiate "combat against crime" targeting Japanese tourists.

Since then, Harris has beefed up police in tourist areas and brought down crime.

This is the second major tragedy on Oahu this year. In May, eight people died in a rock slide at Sacred Falls, a popular hiking and swimming area.

Both Kato and Suzuki said the Sacred Falls deaths did not hurt Hawaii tourism.

Kato said hiking is not a common activity for Japanese tourists here.



Gun law debate is
suddenly more urgent

State lawmakers may look at issues
of registration and personal defense

By Craig Gima


For Pegi Scully, Tuesday's violence brought back memories of the day her son, John, was gunned down in San Francisco. It also increased her resolve to work to control guns in Hawaii.

"It was just like being sad in the heart all over again," Scully said from her home in Waimea on the Big Island. "It was so hideously similar, a daytime office work thing where people thought they were very safe."

John Scully was one of eight people killed in 1993 in a law office by a deranged gunman who later shot himself. Scully, a Punahou High School graduate, died shielding his wife from the gunfire.

Since the shooting, Scully has lobbied for tougher gun control measures in Hawaii. She is now part of the Bell Campaign, a national group made up for the most part by families and friends of victims of gun violence.

"I think now we're going to have to look at them (Hawaii's gun control laws) and say now we have good laws, but some of them should be better."

The group is considering asking the Legislature to require gun owners to periodically renew gun registrations, much like drivers licenses have to be renewed. The group has also unsuccessfully supported legislation to require proof of a registered gun before anyone can buy ammunition and for tougher gun storage laws.

"I drive a school bus at the private school where I work, and I need to be medically recertified every two years," said Frank Kuhl, another member of the Bell Campaign. "Why shouldn't that apply to a lethal weapon?"

After Tuesday's shootings, lawmakers said they may be receptive to hearing new gun control initiatives.

"Hawaii has now been drawn into the national debate on handguns with a greater urgency," said Senate Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Avery Chumbley. "Up until now we've always been able to say we've got one of the strictest, if not the strictest handgun laws in the nation, but even with those laws, something like this can happen."

Co-Chairman Matt Matsunaga said it's also important to look at whether current gun laws really work.

"If you're diagnosed with a mental disorder, you're supposed to turn in your firearms, but how is that enforced?" he asked.

Chumbley (D, Kihei) and Matsunaga (D, Palolo) said they both believe a hearing should be held next session on gun control initiatives. But Chumbley added they might also hear measures from gun advocates who have been asking the state to allow owners greater freedom to carry weapons.

Max Cooper, vice president of the Hawaii Rifle Association, said if someone in the Xerox building had been legally allowed to carry a gun to work, fewer people may have been killed.

"People in an office like that can protect themselves while waiting for police to arrive," he said.

"Hawaii doesn't really believe in the concept of a personal defense firearm," he said, adding that one of the reasons he carries a gun is that his home has been burglarized.

Cooper also argued that having to re-register firearms would create an unnecessary bureaucracy and take police officers off the street to handle paperwork.

"Policemen have better things to do than register the firearms of law-abiding citizens," he said.

Cooper and his organization are also asking for an apology from local officials who he said suggested that "someone with 17 guns must be a gun nut."

He said there are a number of gun collectors on the island. "We resent the kind of inference that being interested in firearms or having that many guns means someone probably has homicidal tendencies."

At the firearms registration desk at the Honolulu police station on Beretania Street yesterday, Glenn Wakayama said Hawaii's laws make it difficult to buy and legally register a gun. A hunter, Wakayama had to wait two weeks for his permit to buy a shotgun while police conducted background checks. He also had to complete a gun safety class. Wakayama returned to the police station yesterday to register the shotgun he purchased.

"It's a lot of paperwork," he said as he filled out his registration form. But Wakayama said he thinks it's a good idea to have tough gun control laws.

Still, he said, "I'm tired of having other guys ruin it for all of us."

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