Hawaii eyes closing gun loopholes, bolstering mental health

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Bystanders watch black smoke billowing from a house fire after a shooting and domestic incident at a residence on Hibiscus Road near Diamond Head on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Honolulu. Witnesses say at least two Honolulu police officers were shot and two civilians were injured. Moments after the shooting, the house was set on fire, possibly by the suspect. (Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP)

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii already has some of the nation’s strictest gun laws, but the fatal shooting of two Honolulu police officers by a man his lawyer and neighbors believe had psychiatric problems has added new urgency to efforts to close gun control loopholes and bolster mental health care treatment.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gives Hawaii an A- rating on its annual Gun Law Scorecard, and last year the islands joined more than a dozen other states in enacting a law allowing police and family members to obtain a court order to take firearms from someone who poses a danger to him or herself or to another person.

It’s not yet clear where the gunman who killed the police officers got his weapon. But lawmakers had already been drafting legislation that would prohibit lending guns to another person. Current state law allows gun owners to lend firearms for up to 15 days within the state and for more than two months to those out of state, in both situations without background checks.

State Rep. Chris Lee, chairman of House judiciary committee, wants to examine how someone who was “clearly identified as having mental health issues” was able to accumulate weapons and ammunition.

The deadly incident happened Sunday when police received a 911 call to an upscale neighborhood near Waikiki Beach reporting that a man had stabbed and beaten a neighbor.

Jaroslav “Jerry” Hanel lived in landlord Lois Cain’s house for free in return for handyman services. Both Hanel and Cain are believed to have perished when a fire erupted inside his home shortly after he fired the fatal shots that killed the two officers. Hanel’s attorney believes he may have erupted in a rage when she confronted him with an eviction notice.

It’s not known whether Hanel owned guns because he didn’t have a permit.

But a close friend of Cain’s told the Honolulu Star-Advertiserthat her friend kept her late husband’s guns in a storage locker under her bed. Janice Morrow said she didn’t know whether the guns were still there in recent weeks. Morrow was visiting Cain and said she was trying to support her friend’s efforts to evict Hanel when the violence occurred.

Neighbor Russel Freeman said before 2015 he and his wife were on “reasonably good terms” with Hanel. But a temporary restraining order petition Freeman filed in June 2018 said Hanel was “behaving in an increasingly irrational manner which is causing considerable concern for our safety.”

The petition related multiple instances of Hanel yelling at and harassing the Freemans, their tenants and guests.

“He has consistently made comments (that) people are spying, breaking into his apartment, moving his things around and that eventually it could result in him having to kill someone,” Freeman said in his filing. “Jerry clearly has a mental illness, is getting worse and needs help.”

Hawaii Rifle Association President Clifford Goo said he understands the intent of the bill that would prohibit gun lending. But he questioned how teenagers age 16 and older would hunt if the measure became law because it’s illegal to own a gun if you’re younger than 21 in Hawaii. Teens may get a hunting license starting at age 16.

“Most responsible gun owners, they know who their friends are and who they can trust. They’re not going to lend their guns to just anybody,” Goo said.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige said he would support closing loopholes in the state’s gun laws. The Democratic governor said he would also like to see more mental health services outside the criminal justice system, something that state officials have already been working on as they seek to move homeless people into housing.

Senate President Ron Kouchi said lawmakers have been working to restore funding for mental health services that were cut during the Great Recession a decade ago.

House Finance Committee Chairwoman Rep. Sylvia Luke said lawmakers need to make sure beds being added to the state’s only dedicated in-patient psychiatric treatment facility will be available for civil commitments and not just people sent there by the judicial system.

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard told Hawaii News Now that she hopes the deaths of Tiffany Enriquez and Kaulike Kalama will lead to improvements in dealing with people who have mental health issues.

She suggested there should be social workers embedded in the police department and that the police should track mentally ill and make sure they get the services they need.

“I know it sounds tough, but I think it’s time for tough love now,” she said.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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