No State Constitutional Right to Carry a Firearm in Public: Hawaii Supreme Court

The court cited Hawaii’s ‘historical tradition’ to rule out the right to bear arms.
No State Constitutional Right to Carry a Firearm in Public: Hawaii Supreme Court
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green signs gun control legislation in Honolulu, Hawaii, on June 2, 2023. (Audrey McAvoy/AP Photo)
Naveen Athrappully

Hawaii’s Supreme Court has ruled that the state does not provide a constitutional right to carry firearms in public, a deviation from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision that affirmed such a right.

In December, Christopher Wilson was charged with a felony for violating three gun laws in Hawaii. Two of these laws restrict the possession of firearms and ammunition to the owner’s residence or business. A third law, HRS Section 134-9, authorizes the chief of police in each county to issue licenses for carrying firearms.

Mr. Wilson’s legal team moved to have the charges dismissed, arguing that prosecuting him for possessing a firearm for self-defense purposes outside his home violated his right to bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 17 of the Hawaii Constitution.

In August 2022, a circuit court judge granted Mr. Wilson’s motion to dismiss the charges. It agreed that regulations restricting firearms to Mr. Wilson’s business or residence violated his right to keep and bear arms.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Hawaii reversed the circuit court decision.

“Article I, section 17 of the Hawaii Constitution mirrors the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the court wrote in its opinion. However, “we read those words differently than the current United States Supreme Court. We hold that in Hawaii there is no state constitutional right to carry a firearm in public,” it stated.

The Hawaii Supreme Court said that Mr. Wilson has standing to challenge the two laws restricting firearms. However, “we reject Wilson’s constitutional challenges,” the court said.

“Hawaii’s historical tradition of firearm regulation rule out an individual right to keep and bear arms under the Hawaii Constitution ... The spirit of Aloha clashes with a federally-mandated lifestyle that lets citizens walk around with deadly weapons during day-to-day activities.”

The circuit court had dismissed charges against Mr. Wilson by citing the 2022 “New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen” case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense purposes in public places.
In its opinion, the Supreme Court of Hawaii claimed that the Bruen decision “snubs federalism principles.”

Concerning HRS Section 134-9, the license to carry regulation, the Hawaii Supreme Court decided that Mr. Wilson “has no standing to challenge” the rule “without applying for a license.”

“Wilson did not bother to follow HRS Section 134-9’s procedure to obtain a license to carry. Because Wilson made no attempt to get a license, he cannot claim the law’s application procedures are unconstitutional as applied to him.”

‘Anti-Gun’ Court

The Hawaii Supreme Court’s decision was criticized by Kostas Moros, an attorney with Michel and Associates representing the California Rifle & Pistol Association.
“I hope the poor guy dealing with all this nonsense files a cert petition. What a preposterous ruling by a bench of antigun activists,” he said in a Feb. 8 post on X (formerly Twitter). A cert petition seeks to have a higher court review the decision of a lower court.
“At the time this man was charged, no one had ever gotten a CCW (concealed carry weapons) permit in Hawaii. It’s completely abdication of the judicial role to ignore this, unless the petitioner never brought it up, which I find unlikely.”
Mr. Moros also criticized the Hawaii Supreme Court’s statement in its opinion that it makes “no sense for contemporary society to pledge allegiance to the founding era’s culture, realities, laws, and understanding of the Constitution.”
“Sounds like the Hawaii Supreme Court doesn’t even want to be a part of the United States, in this rejection of not just the Second Amendment but their culture and understanding of the Constitution,” he said.
In June last year, Gov. Josh Green, a Democrat, signed bill SB1230 into law that prohibits carrying guns at many places, including beaches, nursing homes, hospitals, restaurants serving alcohol, movie theaters, stadiums, courthouses, and public parks.

At the time, Mr. Green justified the bill by stating it would prevent injuries and deaths. “We’re taking action on gun violence ... because most important to us as a family is to keep our keiki safe, and those that we love safe,” he said. In Hawaii, “keiki” refers to children.

The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action criticized the bill, stating it “massively expands ‘gun-free zones’ where law-abiding citizens are left defenseless and also prohibits carrying firearms on private property unless the owner gives affirmative permission.” The bill also requires people carrying firearms to other places to have insurance coverage.

A lawsuit has been filed against the bill that is scheduled for a hearing in San Francisco in April, according to attorney Alan Beck, who is litigating the case. A fundraiser has been created to cover the expenses of the lawsuit, which has received close to $8,000 in donations out of the targeted $20,000.

In a Jan. 8 Facebook post, Mr. Beck said that the lawsuit would be heard by judges who will “at least be open to the Second Amendment arguments. That is good news for Hawaii gun owners.”