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Hawaii's high court cites 'The Wire' in its ruling on gun rights

People walk past a gun club on June, 23, 2022, in Honolulu. A ruling by Hawaii's high court saying that a man can be prosecuted for carrying a gun in public without a permit uses pop culture references in an apparent rebuke of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that expanded gun rights nationwide.
Marco Garcia
/
AP
People walk past a gun club on June, 23, 2022, in Honolulu. A ruling by Hawaii's high court saying that a man can be prosecuted for carrying a gun in public without a permit uses pop culture references in an apparent rebuke of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that expanded gun rights nationwide.

HONOLULU — A ruling by Hawaii's high court saying that a man can be prosecuted for carrying a gun in public without a permit cites crime-drama TV series "The Wire" and invokes the "spirit of Aloha" in an apparent rebuke of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that expanded gun rights nationwide.

"The thing about the old days, they the old days," the unanimous Hawaii Supreme Court ruling issued Wednesday said, borrowing a quote from season four, episode three of the HBO series to express that the culture from the founding of the country shouldn't dictate contemporary life.

Authored by Justice Todd Eddins, the opinion goes on to say, "The spirit of Aloha clashes with a federally-mandated lifestyle that lets citizens walk around with deadly weapons during day-to-day activities. "

The ruling stems from a 2017 case against Christopher Wilson, who had a loaded pistol in his front waistband when police were called after a Maui landowner reported seeing a group of men on his property at night.

The handgun was unregistered in Hawaii, and Wilson had not obtained or applied for a permit to own the gun, the ruling said. Wilson told police he legally bought the gun in Florida in 2013.

Wilson's first motion to dismiss the charges argued that prosecuting him for possession of a firearm for self-defense violated his right to bear arms under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It was denied.

Then in 2022, a U.S. Supreme Court decision known as New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen upended gun laws nationwide, including in Hawaii, which has long had some of the strictest gun laws in the country — and some of the lowest rates of gun violence.

Just as the Bruen decision came out, Wilson filed a second motion to dismiss the case. A judge granted the dismissal, and the state appealed.

Handguns are displayed at a gun shop on June 23, 2022, in Honolulu. A ruling by Hawaii's high court saying that a man can be prosecuted for carrying a gun in public without a permit uses pop culture references in an apparent rebuke of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that expanded gun rights nationwide.
Marco Garcia / AP
/
AP
Handguns are displayed at a gun shop on June 23, 2022, in Honolulu. A ruling by Hawaii's high court saying that a man can be prosecuted for carrying a gun in public without a permit uses pop culture references in an apparent rebuke of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that expanded gun rights nationwide.

Ben Lowenthal of the Hawaii public defender's office, Wilson's attorney, said Thursday his office is "taking stock of our options," including seeking review from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wilson denied trespassing and said he and his friends "were hiking that night to look at the moon and Native Hawaiian plants," according to the recent ruling.

Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez hailed the ruling as a "landmark decision that affirms the constitutionality of crucial gun-safety legislation."

The ruling reflects a "culture in Hawaii that's very resistant to change" and a judiciary and government that has been "recalcitrant" in accepting Bruen, said Alan Beck, an attorney not involved in the Wilson case.

"The use of pop culture references to attempt to rebuke the Supreme Court's detailed historical analysis is evidence this is not a well-reasoned opinion," said Beck, who has challenged Hawaii's gun restrictions.

Beck represents three Maui residents who are challenging a Hawaii law enacted last year that prohibits carrying a firearm on the beach and in other places, including banks, bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

A federal judge in Honolulu granted a preliminary injunction, which prevents the state from enforcing the law. The state appealed, and oral arguments are scheduled for April before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Bruen set a new standard for interpreting gun laws, such that modern firearm laws must be consistent with the nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation.

"We believe it is a misplaced view to think that today's public safety laws must look like laws passed long ago," Eddins, of the Hawaii high court, wrote. "Smoothbore, muzzle-loaded, and powder-and-ramrod muskets were not exactly useful to colonial era mass murderers. And life is a bit different now, in a nation with a lot more people, stretching to islands in the Pacific Ocean."

The Bruen ruling "snubs federalism principles," Eddins wrote, asserting that under Hawaii's constitution, there is no individual right to carry a firearm in public.

Dating back to the 1800s, when Hawaii was a kingdom, weapons were heavily regulated, Eddins wrote. He noted that in 1833 King Kamehameha III "promulgated a law prohibiting 'any person or persons' on shore from possessing a weapon, including any 'knife, sword-cane, or any other dangerous weapon.'"

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The Associated Press