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This is why the Big Island has rejected more gun permits than other islands in 2023

A recent report from Hawaii’s attorney general on firearms registrations contained some puzzling numbers.

According to the report, gun permit denial rates in 2023 hovered at 1% or lower in Maui, Kaua’i and Honolulu counties. But in Hawai’i County, 6.9% were denied.

In other words, Honolulu has denied 142 of nearly 13,700 applications, while the Big Island Police Department has denied 332 of just over 4,800 applications.

Hawaii Department of the Attorney General

The conversation spoke to Hawaii Police Chief Benjamin Moszkowicz, who was also surprised by the report. The former Honolulu Police Department major was sworn in as Big Island police chief in January 2023.

“I got this report the same day it was released to the general public, and I immediately had some of those same questions, like why are we in denial so much more than the other provinces? So in these specific circumstances, most of our rejected applications revolve around medical marijuana applicants,” he said.

Of the 332 denials in Hawai’i County, 191 were primarily due to medical marijuana – that’s 57.5%. Moszkowicz said these people have or had medical marijuana licenses.

He spoke to firearms registration counterparts in the other provinces to dig deeper.

“The difference comes when the medical marijuana license has expired. And this is a little bit where there is some federal guidance, not much, and there is absolutely no state guidance. And so I think this has led to a slightly different interpretation by different provinces on what should or should not qualify as a condition for refusing firearm registration,” he told HPR.

He said the other three counties do not consider a medical marijuana license that has been expired for a year or more to be an automatic disqualification, while Hawai’i County has historically considered it an automatic disqualification.

But he said 75% of those initially denied medical marijuana were later cleared after returning with documentation from a doctor or counselor stating they were no longer experiencing adverse effects.

‘I don’t think we have done anything wrong by refusing people’s applications under that section and asking them to actually redeem that right by providing what the law suggests. But at the same time, because such a large percentage of those people people were able to get that documentation so quickly, we actually changed our policy. So over the last two days we have adapted our policies and practices to reflect the other provinces. Moszkowicz told HPR.

Starting Monday, Hawai’i County will not automatically disqualify people whose medical marijuana licenses have been expired for more than a year.

Meanwhile, Moszkowicz said he is looking to lawmakers during the 2025 session to clarify the automatic disqualifications.

This interview was broadcast The conversation on May 20, 2024. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1. Sophia McCullough adapted this story for the web.