Gun Violence in Hawaii

Picture of a Hand Gun in the Sand

By: Lokelani Wilder 

The Kahala Hotel and Resort has been placed on lockdown on Saturday, April 10, after shots were reportedly fired just before 6:30 p.m.  Honolulu police are currently investigating the scene where reportedly a male suspect has barricaded himself inside a hotel room on the fourth floor.  According to police, the suspect fired multiple shots through the hotel room door from the inside.  Police say hotel security officers were outside of the room when the shots were fired, but they were not struck by gunfire. Officials said, no injuries have been reported as of 9 p.m. Saturday and everyone has been accounted so far. 

 The Kahala incident comes at a time of heightened national awareness and sensitivity around gun violence.  In recent months, mass murders occurring by guns have occurred in Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, and Colorado.   In reality though, since January 1, 2021 the United States has recorded nearly one daily attempted mass murder using guns.  The vast majority of these attempted mass murders do not make the news because though multiple people are injured, one or no victims die.  Only mass murders having multiple deaths make the national news.   Researchers present the prevalence of bad news as solid evidence of a so-called news negativity bias.  This bias is psychologists’ term for our collective hunger to hear, and remember bad news. 

Human beings have biologically evolved to react quickly to potential threats.  Bad news is a signal that we need to change what we’re doing in order to avoid danger.  There is available evidence that shows that people respond quicker to negative words. In lab experiments, flash the word cancer, bomb, or war up at someone and they will hit a button in response quicker than when they see words like baby, smile, or fun. Human beings are also able to recognize negative words faster than positive words, and can even tell when a word is going to be unpleasant before they can tell exactly what the word is going to be. 

Human beings also pay attention to bad news, because on the whole, we mistakenly think the world is rosier than it actually is. When it comes to our own lives, most of us believe we’re better than the average, and that we expect things to be all right in the end. This mistakenly pleasant view of the world makes bad news all the more surprising, salient, and compelling. It is only against a light background such an online news story where that the dark spots of humanity are highlighted. Though our own biological preferences to recognize and avoid danger, we have thus trained journalists to give us bad news.  

Violence of any kind, whether done via guns or other devices, is both bad and wrong.    What defines a mass shooting?  A mass shooting is an incident involving multiple victims of gun violence. There is no widely accepted definition of the term mass shooting. The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) follows the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012 definition for active shooter incidents and mass killings which is defined by the law as three or more people being shot in public places. Based on that definition, it is generally agreed that a mass shooting is whenever three or more people are shot, injured, or killed, not including the shooters.  Using this definition, more than 98 mass shootings have occurred in the United States during 2021 already.     

Within the United States, one must be at least 18 years old in order to purchase shotguns, rifles, and ammunition, and must be at least 21 years old to purchase all other firearms such as semi-automatic assault weapons. Some people may be restricted from owning firearms.  Federal law stipulates a limited number of reasons why a person would be prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm. Those reasons include someone who has been convicted of a crime punishable by more than a year in prison, has a substance abuse addiction, has been involuntarily committed for a mental health issue, was dishonorably discharged from the military, or convicted of domestic violence/subject of a restraining order.  Still these reasons are often improperly recorded and reported and the mass shooter still manages to get a firearm legally.  

Guns must be sold through licensed dealers, and purchasers must undergo a background check. However, the much-discussed gun show loophole allows people to purchase firearms from a flea market, gun show, online, or from a personal collector without a background check.  Still other mass shooters steal their guns from an assortment ranging from people who illegally own guns or from people, usually parents, who have legally purchased and own the weapons.    

The right to own a gun in the United States is protected by the Second Amendment of the Constitution which states: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”.  The Supreme Court has since ruled that the right to bear arms is not connected with the requirement for a well-regulated militia.   While changing a part of the Bill of Rights would be extremely difficult, the issue of gun rights has become a highly controversial, and highly partisan, topic in the national political conversation. For example, a majority of Republicans believe that if legal gun ownership is controlled, that there will not be a difference or that there will be an increase in the number of mass shootings. By contrast, most Democrats believe the number of mass shootings will decrease.  

This past week, President Joe Biden issued new executive actions that he says will improve gun safety.  Biden’s actions create tighter regulations around guns assembled from kits and pistols with a stabilizing brace, as well as directs the justice department to publish red flag legislation that can be adapted by states in order to prevent guns from possibly falling into the wrong hands.  Biden says that the American people want these restrictions and more to include mandatory background checks.  Unsurprisingly of course, Democrats and Republicans are lining up on opposing sides with Democrats saying that guns lead to violence while Republicans argue that bad people with guns leads to violence.  

In 2018, there were more than 26 million background checks conducted and fewer than 100,000 people failed. Of those, the vast majority were for a criminal conviction. Just over 6,000 were rejected for a mental health issue. A study by Harvard University researchers published in 2017 did find that 22 percent of current gun owners who acquired a firearm in the previous two years reported doing so without a background check.  According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the man who carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history — the Las Vegas attack that left 58 people killed and more than 500 wounded in 2017 — legally acquired 33 of the 49 weapons between October 2016 and September 2017.  The gunmen who carried out attacks at a high school in Parkland, Florida; the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida; Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon; and a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, all passed background checks and purchased their firearms legally. 

Reports suggest that up to 60 percent of perpetrators of mass shootings in the United States since 1970 actually displayed symptoms including acute paranoia, delusions, and depression before committing their crimes.  Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooter James Holmes was seeing a psychiatrist specializing in schizophrenia before he opened fire in a crowded theater. Classmates felt unsafe around Jared Loughner because he would laugh randomly and loudly at nonevents in the weeks before he shot U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 6 other people at a rally in front of a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona.  Adam Lanza struggled with basic emotions as a child and wrote a story in which an old woman with a gun in her cane kills wantonly.  Because of the complex psychiatric histories of mass shooters, gun control won’t prevent another Tucson, Aurora, or Newtown.  Evidence strongly suggests that mass shooters are often mentally ill and socially marginalized. Enhanced psychiatric attention may well prevent particular crimes.  Mass shootings themselves often shed light on the need for more investment in mental health support networks or improved state laws and procedures regarding gun access. 

Anxieties about insanity and gun violence are also imbued with oft-unspoken anxieties about race, politics, and the unequal distribution of violence in U.S. society. In the current political landscape, these tensions play out most clearly in the discourse surrounding controversial stand-your-ground laws that call for citizens to be legally armed.  Opponents often confer standing your ground with race and subtly connect insane gun crimes with the previously oft-unspoken assumptions about white supremacy or black gang violence.  

On average, gun violence in Hawaii is lower than in the other states.  Ironically, the fear of gun violence in Hawaii is higher on average than in the other states.  Compared with the rest of the country, misdemeanor crimes in Hawaii do occur at a higher frequency.   Given that Hawaii is primarily Democratically led and in need of federal funding, Hawaiians should expect our political leaders to embrace Joe Biden’s gun policies entirely.  There is one commonality amongst mass shootings and that is that they tend to never begin in places where armed police and security guards are visibly present.  Armed personnel – whether police, security guards, or military – deter mass shootings.  When looking at preventing mass shootings, defunding the police is clearly not the answer.  Hawaiian politicians would be wise not to jump entirely on the defund the police bandwagon because Hawaii’s overgrown fear of gun violence will most assuredly be realized if there are fewer officers on the streets.