Hawaii should keep restriction on capacity of gun clips
States are reviewing their gun laws in the wake of the shooting at Virginia Tech.
MOST states are reviewing their gun control laws in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting rampage, but Hawaii's law needs little if any change. Federal regulations should be stiffened, but Democratic leaders are reluctant to address such a hot issue in the months preceding next year's elections.
In most aspects, Hawaii laws would have been no deterrent if Cho Seung-Hui had set his guns' sights on Hawaii. He could have purchased both of his semiautomatic guns -- 9 mm Glock and .22-caliber Walther pistols -- in Hawaii.
The only difference is that he would have been unable to legally obtain high-capacity ammunition magazines in Hawaii. The Glock pistol is sold in Virginia with two magazines, each capable of holding 15 rounds. Given the high number of shots he fired, it's possible that Cho also bought rapid-fire clips capable of carrying as many as 33 rounds each.
Hawaii's law limits the capacity of ammunition clips to 10 rounds. The House last month approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Ken Ito that would have repealed the limit. The measure was supported by the Hawaii Rifle Association, other gun organizations and numerous firearms enthusiasts but was justifiably opposed by the Attorney General's Office and the Honolulu Police Department.
In reporting the bill to the House floor, Rep. Cindy Evans, chairwoman of the Public Safety and Military Affairs Committee, said the ban had affected "law-abiding citizens, especially those engaged in shooting sports whose competitiveness is diminished by the need to reload." Sen. Mike Gabbard introduced a similar bill in the Senate.
Fortunately, the Senate balked even after the Judiciary Committee toned down the House bill by raising the clip capacity in the bill to 15 rounds instead of rescinding it entirely. The bill has been deferred and should not be revisited.
A ban on the import or manufacture of ammunition magazines with capacities of more than 10 rounds was enacted by Congress in 1994 as part of a bill banning semiautomatic assault-style weapons. The law expired in 2004, undermining assault-style weapon bans in Hawaii and five other states, including California.
While Congress waits for the right time to restore that law, state legislators might want to review Hawaii's law regarding treatment of people showing signs of mental instability. Federal law prohibits guns from being sold to those who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility. Although a Virginia magistrate ordered that Cho be evaluated at a mental health center in 2005, he was free to go the next day.
Like Virginia's law, statutes in Hawaii and three other states allow involuntary commitment only if a person is determined to pose an "imminent danger" to himself or others. The word "imminent" is absent in such laws in other states.
Cho's treatment was voluntary; if it had been involuntary, forced treatment would have been easier and his commitment would have been noted in his background check at the gun stores. Cho then might have been ineligible to purchase the guns.