woes on permit
Police told him he neededBy Suzanne Tswei
a doctor's note to own the gun,
but his application lapsed
and was filed away
The last time Byran Uyesugi came to the Honolulu Police Department to apply for a gun permit, he admitted on his application that he had previous mental problems.
Police held on to his application and told him he needed to get a doctor's note saying he was mentally fit to own firearms. Because state law prohibits firearm ownership by a person who "is or has been diagnosed as having significant behavioral, emotional, or mental disorders," police told him they could not process his application without the doctor's note.
Uyesugi never returned with a doctor's note. His 1994 application became invalid in 14 days and was filed away, said police officials, who requested anonymity.
Although Uyesugi was not able to get a new gun, he was the legal owner of 11 handguns, five rifles and two shotguns.
Five years later, the copy machine repairman is accused of using one of those legally bought firearms -- a 9mm Glock semiautomatic handgun -- to shoot and kill seven colleagues at the Xerox building on Nimitz Highway. He also is accused of firing at an eighth worker who was not wounded.
While refusing to comment on Uyesugi's application, Sgt. Criz Caraang, who supervises the Honolulu Police Department's firearms permit section, said police routinely confiscate firearms when they discover that owners have become disqualified to own them. The number of firearms confiscated in such cases is not available, but in 1999 police confiscated 201 firearms, most of which were seized during the investigation of criminal acts, he said.
In Uyesugi's case, police did not know he was no longer qualified to own firearms. His incomplete application prevented police from carrying out an investigation on his background, the police officials said.
A background check would have revealed the arsenal Uyesugi already owned and his violent outburst at work that resulted in his arrest and subsequent anger management counseling.
Uyesugi had kicked in an elevator door in 1993 following an argument with co-workers. He was arrested on a criminal property damage charge and had to undergo the counseling.
Had police conducted a background check on Uyesugi, the arrest record alone would have been reason enough for police to deny his gun application and confiscate his firearms collection, under police procedures.
"Who gets a gun and who doesn't get a gun is at the discretion of the chief," said Capt. Alan Fujimoto, who also declined to comment on the Uyesugi case.
People convicted of a crime, have substance abuse or serious mental conditions, and other problems are prohibited from owning firearms under the statutes, but Chief Lee Donohue has "some leeway" in his decisions.
"For example, if you have 100 traffic tickets, that's not a reason to deny you a permit. But if you have 100 traffic tickets and you showed violent behavior when you were issued those tickets, then the chief may decide to deny you a permit," said Fujimoto, who oversees the firearms section.
Had Uyesugi's gun permit application been denied, the denial would have led automatically to a review of firearms records to see if he owned other firearms, according to police procedures. Then police would have made arrangements to seize his weapons.
"We've had good compliance" during firearm seizures, Caraang said. "We have not had to go into people's homes to force them to give up their guns. Usually people surrender their guns when we ask them."
Sometimes police ask the owner's family members to take the firearms away to keep the situation peaceful, he said.
When people are arrested on domestic abuse charges, police routinely check for firearms ownership and confiscate guns, Caraang said. The state's sheriffs also confiscate firearms when people are convicted of crimes.
But police are limited in learning about people who have obtained firearms legally but become disqualified owners through substance abuse or mental problems, said Maj. John Kerr, police spokesman on firearms issues, who also declined to comment on Uyesugi's case.
"It's impossible for us to know about these people. They have to tell us about it," Kerr said. Treatment for psychological problems is private medical information, and police have no access to such records, he said.
The Legislature introduced proposals this session to allow police greater access to private medical information for background checks and require firearm owners to re-register their weapons. But these proposals appear to be dead.
Kerr said these measures would help police better screen firearms applicants and weed out those who are no longer qualified to own weapons.