Attorney argues Hawaii law is a ban on carrying guns

HONOLULU (AP) — A challenge to Hawaii’s strict gun laws was back before a federal appeals court Thursday, where an attorney representing the state tried to defend a law that allowed officials to deny George Young a permit to carry a loaded gun in public.

Young's attorney, Alan Beck, said the law is a de-facto ban on guns outside the home.

Young wants to carry a gun for self-defense and says that not being able to do so violates his rights. His 2012 lawsuit was dismissed, with a judge siding with officials who said the Second Amendment only applied to guns kept in homes. It was Young's third lawsuit seeking a carry permit to be dismissed.

He appealed. Three federal appeals court judges later ruled in his favor but the state asked for a fuller panel of judges to hear the case.

Hawaii County hasn't issued a carry permit in 20 years, Young's attorney, Alan Beck, argued.

“We do not take lightly the problem of gun violence, which the State of Hawaii ‘has understandably sought to fight,’” Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain wrote in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' 2-1 ruling in 2018. “But, for better or for worse, the Second Amendment does protect a right to carry a firearm in public for self-defense.”

If the ruling stands, it could lead to more guns in public in the few Western states under 9th Circuit jurisdiction where they are currently restricted.

O'Scannlain was among the 11 randomly selected judges who heard arguments Thursday.

“He would be perfectly happy with an open carry permit,” Beck said of Young. “He also would be perfectly fine if this court found that rather than having a freestanding right to concealed carry, he’d be open to carry concealed as a reasonable alternative.”

Judge William Fletcher asked if it would be a violation of the Second Amendment if applicants needed to show some immediate danger for why a gun was necessary for self-defense.

Yes it would be, Beck said: “Crime is not something that individuals can predict.”

Hawaii's law is not a flat ban because individuals can carry firearms if they have good cause, said Neal Katyal, a lawyer representing Hawaii.

“Hawaii’s law is squarely rooted in a long historical tradition going back seven centuries,” he said. “That tradition shows that carrying firearms in public without good cause has never been part of the right to keep and bear arms.”

It's likely the U.S. Supreme Court will settle the issue. It's not clear when the 9th circuit judges will issue a ruling.

“Hawaii’s carry law is the most restrictive in the country,” Beck told The Associated Press. “Hawaii is the only place in the country where it’s effectively impossible to get a permit.”