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Bill on licensing requirements for electric gun sellers mulled

A federal lawsuit challenges delay in licensing, additional requirements for sellers

The Maui County Council is considering a bill to establish licensing requirements for sellers of electric guns, while a federal lawsuit challenges the delay in licensing and additional requirements proposed for sellers.

A state law that took effect Jan. 1 legalized sales of electric guns such as Tasers and stun guns.

By not taking steps to implement the law, the county and council “have perpetuated a complete ban on the sale, ownership and possession of electric arms,” according to the lawsuit filed March 30 in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

It was filed by Maui Ammo and Gun Supply, the business name for Mags Management Inc., a Nevada corporation registered in Hawaii with a location in Wailuku; the Hawaii Firearms Coalition of people who support the constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms; and Wailuku resident Christy Gusman, who wants to buy a Taser.

The lawsuit was filed about two weeks after the bill was discussed at a March 14 meeting of the Council Human Concerns and Parks Committee.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Keola Whittaker said the state law “has very specific regulations” that apply to buyers of electric guns but allows the counties to impose additional requirements on electric gun dealers as part of regulating the sales.

“You can increase regulation on sellers but not buyers,” he told committee members.

The state law prohibits ownership or possession of electric guns by fugitives or people who have been convicted of a felony, crime of violence or illegal drug sale. Also prohibited from owning electric guns are people under treatment or counseling for drug or alcohol addiction or abuse, those acquitted of a crime by reason of insanity and those who are the subject of a court restraining order.

The law says it’s illegal to use an electric gun except in self-defense, defense of another person or protection of property.

Sellers are required to complete an electric gun safety or training course at least once every three years and pay an annual licensing fee of $50. Sellers also are required to do criminal history background checks of buyers, provide a briefing on safe use of electric guns and the law to buyers, and keep records of all sales including the name, date of birth, address and telephone number of buyers.

Whittaker said at least three dealers have indicated they want to sell electric guns in the county and have purchased inventory. The dealers have been pushing to get licenses under state law, he said.

At the March 14 meeting, police Assistant Chief Gregg Okamoto said he understood that no one has been allowed to sell electric guns in the state because no counties had established a licensing ordinance.

“My understanding is it hasn’t been sold in the state yet,” he said. “There are sellers who already bought inventory across the state, but they have been told they’re not allowed to sell until an ordinance is in place. They have reached out to us and are asking what the status is. They’re being advised not to sell them.”

In the draft ordinance discussed at the meeting, licensed sellers would be required to have insurance policies with coverages of $2 million per event and $3 million annually, cover the county, its officers and employees and “defend the county from any claims arising from the license to sell and the use of electric guns or cartridges.”

The bill also calls for the police chief to approve the electric gun safety or training course and allows the chief to make rules and regulations on the course.

“We have the opportunity to be the first one to implement this ordinance and be a model for the rest of the state,” Okamoto said. “The chief is in agreement with this current draft.

“He wants to be in compliance with the law. He’s taken into consideration both sides.”

Both Okamoto and Whittaker told committee members the county could face a lawsuit if the council didn’t take action on the ordinance.

“If we don’t come to some sort of decision or resolution, they may take legal action because we’re violating the state law by not allowing them to sell the electric guns,” Okamoto said.

Whittaker said the state law was enacted after a Supreme Court ruling that a citizen had a Second Amendment right to have a stun gun in a Massachusetts case. “That caused concern because we had a ban on electric guns too,” Whittaker said.

Some committee members had concerns about who would be buying the electric guns.

“How do we make it safe for our people by trying to ensure people buying these guns are not crazy or insane?” said committee Chairwoman Tasha Kama.

Whittaker said buyers have to confirm they haven’t been convicted of a felony.

The committee voted to recommend that the council approve the bill.

At its April 1 meeting, the council approved the bill on first reading.

Referring to the lawsuit that had been filed by then, Whittaker said, “Some sellers do not want to wait a few weeks and want to sell them now. But to be perfectly frank, it’s a frivolous lawsuit.”

He said the lawsuit would be moot after the bill was passed.

When Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura asked whether a Police Commission member could be licensed to sell electric guns, Whittaker said yes.

Sugimura asked if a police commissioner was involved in the lawsuit.

“My understanding is a son of one of the police commissioners is involved in one of the companies that filed a lawsuit against us but not the commissioner himself,” Whittaker said.

In a document filed in the lawsuit, police commissioner Mark Redeker says Maui Ammo and Gun Supply is his business.

A motion for a preliminary injunction in the case is scheduled for June 6.

In addition to citing the delay in licensing sellers of the “less than lethal weapons,” the lawsuit opposes insurance coverage requirements in the bill.

The lawsuit says “this insurance requirement is so far out of the normal, it will be extremely expensive, if it can even be obtained, and is an attempt to effectuate a ban on electric arms though requirements that cannot be met.”

The lawsuit calls the county proposal “an attempt to block Hawaii’s new state law allowing the People to keep and bear arms by mandating outrageous requirements for sellers of the devices that Hawaii law has legalized and operates as a ban.”

In proposed amendments to the bill submitted last week, the county finance director, instead of the police chief, would approve the electric gun safety or training course for sellers. A section allowing the chief to make rules and regulations on the course would be removed.

Proposed changes also “lower and simplify” insurance requirements to $1 million and $2 million, based on “the Department of the Corporation Counsel’s consultation with industry experts,” according to a summary of the amendments.

Provisions that the county, its officers and employees be named as insured would be eliminated.

At its meeting Friday, the County Council delayed a decision on the bill and the proposed amendments until its May 6 meeting after Kama said the council would have to discuss the matter in closed executive session.

Corporation Counsel Moana Lutey said she wanted to discuss correspondence that the county received this week from the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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