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The sun may be out, but guns are not. Lawsuit challenges a new gun ban on Hawaii beaches

Todd Yukutake, a director of the Hawaii Firearms Coalition, stops to pose in front of Diamond Head
Todd Yukutake of the Hawaii Firearms Coalition, which is suing to block a new Hawaii law that prohibits carrying guns on beaches and other locations.
(Jennifer Sinco Kelleher / Associated Press)
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Sun’s out, guns out? Not on Hawaii’s world-famous beaches.

Beginning Saturday, a new law prohibits carrying a firearm on the sand — and in other places, including banks, bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

Three Maui residents are suing to block the measure, arguing that Hawaii — which has long had some of the strictest gun laws in the nation and some of the lowest rates of gun violence — is going too far with its wide-ranging ban.

Residents carrying guns in public is new to Hawaii. Before a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year expanded gun rights nationwide, Hawaii’s county police chiefs made it virtually impossible to carry a gun by rarely issuing permits to do so — either for open carry or concealed carry. Gun owners were only allowed to keep firearms in their homes or to transport them — unloaded and locked up — to shooting ranges, hunting areas and places such as repair shops.

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The high court’s ruling found that people in the U.S. have a right to carry firearms for self-defense. It prompted the state to retool its gun laws, with Democratic Gov. Josh Green signing legislation in early June to allow more people to carry concealed firearms.

At the same time, however, the new law prohibits people from taking guns to a wide range of places, including beaches, hospitals, stadiums, bars and movie theaters. Private businesses allowing guns must post a sign to that effect.

The lawsuit, which the three residents and the Hawaii Firearms Coalition filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu last week, doesn’t challenge all the prohibited locations. But bans on carrying at beaches and parks, in family restaurants or in bank parking lots where people might be getting cash from ATMs are “egregious restrictions on their 2nd Amendment right to bear arms,” the lawsuit says.

“There’s a lot of crime at some of the parks and beaches,” said Todd Yukutake, a director of the coalition. “And it can be very scary at some of these beach parks.”

Alan Beck, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said his clients especially want to protect themselves at isolated beaches, where they might be fishing or going for a walk rather than sunbathing or swimming.

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“The truth is it’s probably safer at Waikiki Beach during the day when there’s, you know, thousands of people around,” he said of Honolulu’s tourist mecca. “But a lot of these beaches in Hawaii aren’t the beaches people think of when, you know, they see movies or TV.”

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Guns at beaches is not the image that tourism-dependent Hawaii wants to project, said Democratic state Sen. Karl Rhoads.

“A sensitive place is a place where you would not expect there to be guns,” he said. “Where you expect to have a good time and not have to worry about violence and being shot.”

Hawaii’s beaches are “the livelihood of our state in many ways,” said Chris Marvin, a Hawaii resident with the gun-violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety.

“And they are safe today. By allowing people to carry guns on them, they will become less safe.”

He recalled the “pandemonium” that ensued last year when a man brandished a gun on Waikiki Beach, causing tourists “to run for their lives.”

The lawsuit doesn’t challenge restrictions on carrying guns at bars, but the plaintiffs don’t see why family restaurants that serve alcohol should be included, Beck said. As for banks: Going to an ATM at night is “prime time for someone to try and mug you,” he said.

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Legal challenges to similar laws adopted in New York and New Jersey last year are making their way through federal courts.

A federal appeals court temporarily agreed to keep in effect part of New Jersey’s handgun carry law, which also includes public beaches, as court proceedings play out.

In January, the high court ruled that New York can continue to enforce its sweeping law that bans guns from places including schools, playgrounds and Times Square.

Hawaii’s law reflects a “vast reach that goes beyond any other jurisdiction to date,” said Kevin O’Grady, another lawyer representing the plaintiffs.

The restrictions render concealed carry permits virtually useless, he said.

The Hawaii attorney general’s office said in a statement that the law is constitutional and vowed to defend it.

U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi is scheduled to hear a motion for a temporary restraining order blocking the law on July 31.

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