CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Ed Masaki, a champion shooter and gunsmith, was at Koko Head rifle range yesterday with his .45-caliber pistol called "Dragon," modifed to lessen recoil.
Registration of firearms has increased 60 percent in the state since 2000
STORY SUMMARY »
Hawaii residents registered a record 21,784 personal firearms last year as gun permit applications reached an all-time high and fewer people were turned down than ever before, says a state report.
Gun registration, which went up 9 percent in 2007, has soared 60 percent since 2000, when the state Attorney General began tracking registrations.
The attorney general's office cautions that there is no link between higher gun ownership and concern about crime in the islands. But a University of Hawaii criminology expert is worried about the trend, given recent shootings at universities across the country.
Hawaii's four county police departments approved 94.2 percent of the 8,835 applications for gun permits they got last year. A record-low 83 applications, or 0.9 percent, were denied, compared with the national rejection rate of 2.4 percent, figures show.
Nearly half of firearms registered in 2007 came from outside the state.
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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Stewart Chun was testing his .223 semiautomatic rifle yesterday at Koko Head rifle range.
Magnum Motorsports, a former auto shop in Honolulu, became Magnum Firearms & Range about a decade ago as steady gun sales led the company to make the switch.
"The automotive side started to die off, and the firearms side started to expand," said employee Derek Hanson. "For the past 10 years, it has been strictly firearms."
Gun ownership, which has been rising in Hawaii for the past seven years, hit a new record in 2007, when more people registered firearms than ever before and almost everyone who applied for a permit got one.
There were 21,784 personal firearms registered last year, with fewer than 1 percent of 8,835 permit applications rejected. Gun registration, which rose 9 percent in 2007, has surged by 60 percent since the state attorney general's office began tracking it in 2000.
It is unclear what factors drive the trend, but state researcher Paul Perrone ruled out any spike in violent crimes that would lead residents to seek more protection.
"The trend ... certainly is not statistically related to any kind of congruent spike in firearm-related crime," said Perrone, chief of research and statistics for the attorney general's office. "The link between those two is nebulous at best."
While Hawaii is safe when compared with other states, criminologist Meda Chesney-Lind said she is troubled with the local gun influx, especially in the wake of shootings at college campuses across the country.
"Any time you increase the number of guns in the community, you increase the likelihood of higher suicide rates and higher homicide rates," said Chesney-Lind, a women's-studies professor at the University of Hawaii. "Teaching on a university campus these days, it's become a lot more immediate a concern for us in light of the mass killings that have been occurring."
Domestic violence cases in Hawaii also could potentially turn deadly in the home of a gun owner, she noted. Roughly three-fifths of the 83 gun permit applications rejected in 2007 came from people with a criminal history, the report said.
"We sure hope the system works well, because a lot of people with scary backgrounds are applying for guns," said Chesney-Lind, who supports tougher gun regulations.
The attorney general's report said the record-low percentage of gun permit applications denied in the state - 0.9 percent compared with a 2.4 percent rejection rate nationally - is "remarkable" given what it called extensive background checks in Hawaii.
"Increasingly, the applicants are the most law-abiding citizens you can find in the state," Perrone said.
More than half of all guns registered in 2007 - a record 13,550, or 62.2 percent, were so-called long arms such as rifles and shotguns that are generally associated with hunting. The remaining 8,234 firearms registered, or 37.8 percent, were handguns, the report said.
The state estimates about 1 million personal firearms are registered in Hawaii.
Dr. Max Cooper, legislative co-chairman of the 1,000-member Hawaii Rifle Association, attributed the gun registration spike to a good economy.
"Sometimes there is a fear factor. Like after 9/11 gun sales went up," he said. "I think 2007, it was just good times here in Hawaii. People were spending their money on cars, guns, houses, boats."
Joe Graham, part-owner of Windward Gun Shop, said he
believes most people looking for a gun in Hawaii want it to hunt or target-practice.
"Here is recreation, hunting and home defense," said Graham, who moved here from Philadelphia. "(On the) East Coast, at least where I come from, is the opposite."