The headlines from Apr. 17 were pretty scary: “Isle Gun Registrations Soared During 2011,” reported the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (subscription required) while Maui Now said that “Hawaii Firearm Permits at Record High in 2011.” All the stories, from television, newsprint and the web, used the same word to highlight a new report from the state Attorney General’s office: “record.” This was expected, given that the word also appeared in the AG’s report itself.
“A record high total of 15,375 personal/private firearm permit applications were processed statewide during 2011, marking a substantial, 20.1% increase from the previous record high of 12,801 applications processed in 2010,” stated the statistic-laden “Firearm Registrations in Hawaii, 2011” report, which was dated March 27, 2012 but released by the AG’s office last week. “Of the applications processed in 2011, 94.0% were approved and resulted in issued permits; 4.5% were approved but subsequently voided after the applicants failed to return for their permits within a specified time period; and 1.5% were rejected due to one or more disqualifying factors.”
The thought of people across Hawaii rushing out to buy guns is undeniably scary. And indeed, Hawaii News Now seriously ratcheted up the fear by quoting one Harvey Gerwig of the Hawaii Rifle Association in its attempt to explain the uptick in gun registrations.
“[President Barack] Obama and his crew have definitely made it clear that they don’t like guns,” Gerwig told HNN. “They don’t want guns in our hands and people are concerned about that.”
That “record” numbers of people across the state are filling out the paperwork necessary for legal gun ownership in the fourth year of the Obama Administration would seem to indicate the president and his “crew” aren’t exactly going after gun owners with any gusto. But it’s also important to understand that the increase in gun ownership is also a real–and national–trend.
“Forty-seven percent of American adults currently report that they have a gun in their home or elsewhere on their property,” Gallup announced last October in a report titled “Self-Reported Gun Ownership in U.S. Is Highest Since 1993.” “Gallup finds that 34% of all Americans personally own a gun.”
From years of polling on the question of gun ownership, Gallup reported that percentage of Americans who owned firearms dropped during the 1990s and stayed in the “low to mid-40s” for the next 15 years, but began to rise again a few years ago. But the polling firm had no explanation for why such an uptick occurred, only saying that it “may be related to Americans’ dampened support for gun-control laws” and that “it will be important to see whether the uptick continues in future polling.”
What’s more, Hawaii’s own gun ownership numbers pale before the national average. In fact, according to Paul A. Perrone, the Chief of Research and Statistics at the state AG’s office, a household survey report his office conducted in 2010 showed just 7.4 percent of Hawaii residents owned guns.
“The comparable figures from earlier surveys (back to the mid-1990s) ranged from approximately 4% to 9%,” Perrone emailed me on Apr. 20. “The question is asked in the context of security measures taken to protect against crime, so it is probable that some firearm owners conceptualize their firearms as being owned exclusively for other reasons (hunting, collecting, target shooting, etc.), and thus did not respond affirmatively. It’s also possible that some firearm owners did not feel comfortable reporting their ownership to a state law enforcement agency, even given the context of an anonymous survey format.”
So much for the feat that huge numbers of Hawaii residents are dashing to gun stores. But that doesn’t mean the AG’s report wasn’t fun to read.
In fact, most of the news reports I read on the firearms registration findings seemed to miss the best part of the report: that would be the table near the end itemizing all the reasons why police departments across Hawaii rejected firearm permit applications. Some of the best include “abuse of family/household member” (30 instances), “assault on police office” (1 instance), “depression” (1 instance), “did not sign background check waiver” (1 instance), “medical marijuana patient” (1 instance), “restraining order” (8 instances), “suicide attempt” (4 instances) and the ever popular “murder arrest unresolved from 1982” (1 instance).
Photo: Demondoghowls/Wikimedia Commons