In the weeks following Florida’s Parkland high school massacre, a new fervor has set in when it comes to challenging the formerly bulletproof National Rifle Association (NRA)–and the organization is beginning to take some significant hits.
Whether it’s the powerful emotions created by angry, grieving Parkland students, or a collective consciousness snap at the news of yet another assault rifle slaughter, individual outrage seems to have coalesced into a steely muscularity intent on weakening the gun rights giant on a number of levels. Citizens are challenging local and national representatives who have taken campaign donations from the gun lobby, the NRA’s activities abroad are being examined, and now corporations are beginning to alter their relationships as well.
Starting last week, a steady stream of corporations have canceled discount programs offered to NRA members and asked that their names be removed from the organization’s website. At press time, they included the Metlife, Inc. insurance company, software giant Symantec, all the major rental car companies, Delta and United Airlines, the Wyndham group of hotels such as Ramada and Days Inn, and moving companies Allied Van Lines and North American Van Lines.
Even banks have sidled away. First National Bank of Omaha announced that, due to “customer feedback,” it no longer will issue its special NRA visa card, once known as “the official credit card of the N.R.A.” Bank of America announced that it would review its relationships with those companies manufacturing assault weapons for non-military use.
And even though Amazon doesn’t sell firearms, it’s being attacked for streaming video content from the NRA’s TV channel.
For its part, the NRA has described the cancellations as “a shameful display of political and civic cowardice.”
Hawaii, with its strict laws tightly controlling gun ownership, registration and use, has one of the lowest gun crime rates in the county. Still, Honolulu Civil Beat’s Chad Blair recently jumped into the post-Parkland coverage recently by answering the question: what Hawaiian legislators have taken money from the political action committees of the NRA or its local affiliate, the Hawaiian Rifle Association (HRA)?
There were dozens of names on the list, which listed any donations received since 2008, but only three from Maui. Former Speaker of the House Joe Souki (D-Wailuku) received $150 from the NRA and $2,800 from the HRA. Representatives Kyle Yamashita (D-Upcountry) and Angus McKelvey (D-West Maui) each received NRA donations of $250 (all three representatives are up for reelection this year).
Now, those amounts are pretty paltry–but as Blair pointed out–there are indications that any kind of gun lobby donation or support will be used as a campaign issue this election year.
From 2006 to 2010, Souki received “A” ratings from the NRA. The Hawaiian Rifle Association gave him “performance” ratings in the 90th percentile until 2016, when Souki voted in favor of gun registration. Perhaps not coincidentally, his 2016 rating dropped to 67 percent with the HRA and to 50 percent with the NRA.
Surprisingly, although Rep. Yamashita voted the way the NRA wanted in 2016–against gun registration–his NRA performance ratings have hovered in the 60 percent range for the past few years. Neither legislator returned calls for comment.
But McKelvey was a different story. In an interview, McKelvey said that, although his office only received one email about the $250 campaign contribution, he took immediate action.
“I didn’t even remember it and had to go back and find it in my records,” he said. “It was from 2012, so that money had come and gone a long time ago for regular campaign purposes.” His constituent suggested that he do something to support the fight against domestic violence or to donate to a group working to end gun violence, and McKelvey agreed.
“I couldn’t donate to gun violence groups because they’re national political groups, but we have the Women Helping Women non-profit on Maui that does amazing work helping women escape domestic violence. I thought it was a chance to support them and send a message of solidarity. So I gave them a contribution of $250.”
He added that if he retains his seat in this year’s election, his priority during the next session will be to introduce a bill for mandatory gun insurance (proposals for gun liability insurance have been proposed in several states and in Congress; the NRA currently offers such a policy).
“We have insurance for our cars that everyone has to buy,” McKelvey said. “There’s no reason–particularly with these kinds of weapons that do such harm and damage–that everyone shouldn’t have that insurance. That’s what I plan to pursue if I return to Honolulu.”
Of course, those plans, and his support for this session’s gun bills (see accompanying story) will probably do some damage to the current ratings he has received from the NRA (92 percent) and the HRA (71 percent).
“Yeah? You know what? Good!” McKelvey shot back. “I hope they do. I support responsible sustenance hunting, but I don’t support the kind of weapons that are only used to kill people–which is the reality of bump stocks. They’re not used for hunting. No hunter in his right mind would use one.”
McKelvey also says he will never take another dime from the gun lobby. “No more,” he said. “My community wants to know where I stand, especially on things like this. I’ve never voted one way or another for anybody or anything in my life, but I don’t even want the appearance of that right now. I won’t accept any more gun money going forward. It’s a pledge I’m happy to make.”
We also contacted the rest of Maui’s statehouse legislators who hadn’t received any gun lobby money to see if their policies had undergone any changes in the post-Parkland environment.
Only a couple responded. Senator Gilbert Keith-Agaran (D-Central Maui) said he hasn’t taken money from the gun rights organizations, but added that he usually isn’t aware of who makes contributions to him. “My treasurer knows, but I’ve never paid too much attention to exactly who was making the contribution,” he said.
He voted for gun registration in 2016,* and his NRA rating is low: 21 percent in 2016. He shrugged off the number. “I’ve never asked for their endorsement and I’ve never responded to their questionnaire (which helps the group formulate its ratings),” Keith-Agaran said.
He thinks the NRA probably has a low opinion of most Hawaiian legislators: “We have strict laws and they’ve gotten even stricter for the last couple of years.”
At the other end of the NRA rating spectrum is Sen. Roz Baker (D-West and South Maui), who co-sponsored the successful 2016 gun registration bill. Her last HRA percentage was zero. Her NRA grade–a resounding F–prompted a big laugh during a phone call last week.
“I love it! My badge of honor,” she said. “I don’t take [their] donations, I don’t fill out their questionnaires, and because I wear my feelings and emotions on my sleeve when they come to testify, I’ve probably given them stink eye.” She laughed again. “So yeah, they love me.”
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Hawaii’s Gun Bills
If Civil Beat’s list of NRA/HRA donation recipients didn’t irk the already agitated gun lobby, two bills moving steadily through the legislature most certainly have.
The first, known as SB 2046 in the Senate and HB1908 in the House, is informally known as the “Bump Stock” bill. It would make it a felony to manufacture, import, sell or possess devices designed to accelerate the firing rate of semi-automatic weapons. The perpetrator of last year’s Las Vegas massacre used such a device.
The second, the so-called “Firearm Surrender” bill (SB 2436/HB2228) would shorten the time that a person who is disqualified from owning a gun would have to surrender it. The current time limit is 30 days; the House measure would reduce it to 48 hours, the Senate version to 24 hours.
Maui legislators were involved in the process, some apparently more enthusiastically than others.
Sen. Gilbert Keith-Agaran was a “primary introducer” of the bump stock bill, although he said in an interview that he thought the new measure might be a bit redundant.
“The attorney general’s office actually thinks that bump stocks and other trigger mechanisms are already covered by the ban in our statute, but the bill’s being introduced anyway, just to make sure it’s crystal clear that these are the types of things covered by the ban.”
He added that he’s “leaning towards” supporting both measures.
Sen. Roz Baker was a primary sponsor of the firearms surrender bill and also supports the bump stock measure, which comes as no surprise. She also was a force behind the successful and groundbreaking 2016 legislation mandating gun registration in the state, making Hawaii among the strictest states in terms of regulating gun ownership.
But in an interview, her thoughts wandered nationally as she pondered President Donald Trump’s proposal that teachers be armed in the classroom. “How stupid is that?” she said. “My mother was an elementary school teacher, my father was a school administrator and even through I grew up in Texas and a lot of our friends were hunters, my family never was. To think that’s the answer to gun violence anyplace is just ludicrous. It’s anathema to what teachers want to do. That’s not the space that they come from, not the teachers that I know anyway.”
Although Rep. Angus McKelvey voted against gun registration in 2016 (“because it was in violation of federal law”), he is strongly supporting the two bills moving through the House. “I’m glad the bump stock bill is coming before us, I will stand in strong support of it, it’s an important bill,” he said.
McKelvey feels the same about the firearm surrender: “It’s a great bill and I look forward to supporting that as well.”
Whether Joe Souki, with his A rating from the NRA, plans to support this new legislation is unknown; he did not return a call for comment.
Other Maui legislators also did not return calls asking how they regarded the measures. However, Rep. Lynn DeCoite (D-Molokai/East Maui) was a primary introducer of both House bills, and Rep. Kaniela Ing (D-South Maui) was a primary introducer of the House bump stock bill.
The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action has listed both bills on its website, urging members to contact their Hawaii congressional representatives. If you want to send comments to your representative, go to Capitol.hawaii.gov.
* This story originally misstated Sen. Keith-Agaran’s vote on firearms registration. MauiTime regrets the error.
Cover design: Darris Hurst