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Electric stun guns to become legal on Jan. 1

Beginning Jan. 1, most private citizens in Hawaii 21 and older can legally carry a Taser or electric stun gun for self-protection.

According to Lt. Tuck Loy Aurello of the Hawaii Police Department’s Records Division, just as those registering a firearm for the first time are required to pass a NRA-certified firearms safety course, buyers of a Taser or stun gun will be required to take a safety course and register the weapon.

“That safety course will be offered by the seller,” Aurello said. “The seller, once they’re permitted to sell, as part of the process they run the background check (on the buyer), and they register (the device). And they are going to have to provide the safety brief, which is going to include the safe use and handling of the device the buyer is purchasing, the current information about the effects, dangers and limitations of the device — and, of course, educate them a little bit about the law, proper disposal, etc.”

The difference between the two weapons is that a stun gun administers an electric shock through direct contact with the instrument itself, while the Taser delivers the shock through thin, flexible wires connected to two probes the user fires into the target.

The Taser can fire up to 25 feet, with an effective range of about 15 feet.

Tasers and stun guns are almost always nonlethal and seldom have long-term effects on those who receive the shocks, although the international news agency Reuters reported in Feb. 4, 2019, it had “documented a total of at least 1,081 U.S. deaths following use of Tasers, almost all since the weapons began coming into widespread use in the early 2000s.”

In many of those cases, the Taser was combined with other force, such as hand strikes or restraint holds, Reuters reported.

The burden will be on the sellers of Tasers and stun guns to make sure the weapons are registered, according to Aurello.

“The key thing is that the sellers, or the licensees, once they’re permitted, they’re the ones who are going to have to keep the registration for the stun guns,” he explained. “They’re the ones who are going to be running the background checks. Our department will be dealing with the sellers and working in collaboration with the Department of Finance.”

According to the law’s text, the state’s move to eliminate the ban on Tasers and stun guns was forced by the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016), which vacated the conviction of a woman who carried a stun gun for self-defense.

Also mentioned in written testimony by former state Attorney General Clare Connors is the case of Andrew Namiki Roberts, who filed a federal lawsuit against former Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard and others for denying him a stun gun to defend himself, his daughter, home and business. That case is still active.

The new law makes it illegal for a person to use an electric gun except for self-defense, defense of another person, and protection of property.

It also makes it illegal to “sell, distribute or otherwise transfer an electric gun or cartridge” without a license to do so, or to sell or otherwise transfer an electric gun to anyone under 21.

In addition, the law prohibits anyone convicted of or currently charged with a felony, a crime of violence or the illegal sale of drugs to own or possess an electric gun.

Also barred from possessing a stun gun is anyone who has been treated or counseled for substance abuse, including alcohol, acquitted of a crime due to mental incapacity, or has been diagnosed as having a significant behavioral, emotional or mental disorder.

Some violations of the stun gun law are classified as a Class C felony punishable by up to five years imprisonment, upon conviction, while others are misdemeanors carrying a potential one-year jail sentence.

Carrying or use of an electric gun in the commission of a separate felony is a Class B felony, punishable by up to 10 years behind bars, upon conviction.

“So, similar to firearms laws, where there’s an additional charge for use of a firearm in the commission of a separate felony or use of a firearm in a crime, they’ve added to the law in regards to Taser use,” Aurello said. “So, if you’ve committed a crime using the (electric stun gun), it’s another charge.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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