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Friday, April 28, 2000

Re-registration defeat
is blow to gun control

Bullet The issue: The Legislature has rejected a proposal to require periodic re-registration of firearms.

Bullet Our view: Hawaii should take greater strides in joining a national effort to strengthen gun controls and safety standards.

STATE legislators' rejection of a proposal to require gun owners to periodically re-register their weapons is a damaging blow to efforts at making Hawaii a safer place. The measure was prompted by the shooting deaths of seven men at a Xerox Corp. office, allegedly by an employee whose guns were registered with the police. The Legislature's refusal to adopt the proposal could make possible a recurrence of the tragedy.

Byran Uyesugi owned 18 guns, including 11 handguns, five rifles and two shotguns. When he tried to register a 19th gun in 1994, he was rejected because he had been arrested a short time earlier for criminal property damage. But he was allowed to keep the arsenal he already had amassed. The re-registration proposal would have resulted in the seizure of all of a gun owner's weapons following such an offense when it came time to re-register them.

Legislators responsible for defeat of the bill, which was approved by the Senate, said they were concerned when police told them it would be a "strain on their manpower." That is doubtful. Police would have to act only in instances where a registrant's change of status would appear in a routine background check. The Honolulu Police Department supported the Senate bill, along with the Honolulu prosecutor, the state attorney general, Hawaii Women Lawyers and the League of Women Voters.

In the absence of meaningful state legislation, Hawaii's law enforcement agencies can take a positive step toward strengthened gun control by joining 190 local governments in a national gun safety plan. The coalition was formed around a pledge signed by Smith & Wesson, the nation's largest gun maker, and federal officials. They have agreed to give preference in supplying officers to weapons produced by gun manufacturers who agree to new safety and responsibility standards.

Smith & Wesson is the only company to agree to install gun locks on all guns it sells, introduce "smart gun" technology within three years and bar sales of its weapons at gun shows without background checks. Instead of joining Smith & Wesson, other gun makers this week filed a lawsuit demanding that the cities abandon the coalition based on the absurd claim that it amounts to illegal restraint of trade.

The coalition represents an aggressive effort nationally to assure adequate controls and safety standards for firearms. The Hawaii Legislature's rejection of the re-registration proposal is a step backward.

Victims’ rights don’t
warrant amendment

Bullet The issue: Sponsors of a proposed victims' rights constitutional amendment plan to withdraw the proposal because it is losing support.

Bullet Our view: Amending the Constitution is the wrong way to deal with this issue.

THE proposed victims' rights constitutional amendment appears dead for the year, and that's a relief. Backers of the proposed amendment pulled the proposal from the Senate floor because support is waning.

The measure's Republican sponsor, Jon Kyl of Arizona, said it was unlikely that a cloture petition would be supported by enough senators to proceed next week. He said Hawaii's Daniel Inouye had asked to be removed as one of 42 co-sponsors. The cloture petition, which limits debate, would need 60 votes for passage.

Victims' rights is a motherhood issue. Obviously everyone sympathizes with the victims of violent crime, who are sometimes ignored by the judicial system. And there is a feeling that an amendment is needed to balance constitutional protections for criminal suspects. But it's not that simple.

The proposed amendment would establish in the Constitution rights of victims of violent crime or their families to notification of and attendance at all proceedings related to the crime, the right to speak or submit statements at each public hearing on the case, including parole or other early release hearings, the right to reasonable notice if those convicted in their cases are released or escape and the right to restitution.

Clearly it is desirable that victims have reasonable opportunities to express their views and to receive notice of release or escape. However, passing a constitutional amendment creating such rights is unwise. It is easy to envision circumstances in which demands for full enforcement could snarl the judicial system even further than at present. More constitutional rights mean more litigation.

Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia deplored the readiness to amend the Constitution needlessly. "There is a cavalier spirit which seems to say that if it sounds good politically, if it looks good politically, if it will get votes, let's introduce an amendment to the Constitution," he said.

The chief Democratic sponsor, Dianne Feinstein of California, argued that the amendment is needed because victims' rights laws are regularly overridden by the constitutional rights of the accused when conflicts arise.

That is precisely why the proposed amendment is a bad idea. The principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty and the rights that flow from that principle are at the heart of our judicial system. Any attempt to dilute those rights in order to accommodate the complainants must be rejected.

The judicial system should do more to acknowledge victims, but amending the Constitution is not the way to do it.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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