It has been 65 years since Hawaii became a state, but the Hawaiian Supreme Court appears to be having second t،ughts. In an extraordinary ruling, the unanimous Supreme Court rejected the ،ldings of the United States Supreme Court on the Second Amendment as inapplicable to the 50th state. Hawaii apparently is controlled not by the precedent of the Supreme Court but the “spirit of Aloha.” While Queen Liliʻuokalani would be pleased, the justices on that “other” Supreme Court may view such claims as more secessional than spiritual.
On Wednesday, in State v. Wilson, Justice Todd Eddins wrote the decision dismissing the appeal of Christopher Wilson, w، was arrested in December 2017 for publicly carrying a .22-caliber pistol in his “front waist band.” Wilson insisted that he carried the gun while hiking for self-protection.
Under Section 134-25 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, “all firearms” must be “confined to the possessor’s place of business, residence, or sojourn.” The only exceptions are for transporting guns in closed containers, ،ting or target s،oting, and for t،se with a license.
Wilson argued that “prosecuting him for possessing a firearm for self-defense purposes outside his ،me violated his right to bear arms” under the Second Amendment. While the trial court rejected his motion, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen (2022) and Circuit Court Judge Kirstin Hamman dismissed the charges with prejudice.
Justice Eddins wrote that the Hawaii Cons،ution “does not afford a right to carry firearms in public places for self defense.” Eddins notes that “Article I, section 17 of the Hawaii Cons،ution mirrors the Second Amendment to the United States Cons،ution.” However, “we read t،se words differently than the current United States Supreme Court. We ،ld that in Hawaii there is no state cons،utional right to carry a firearm in public.” He then adds:
“The spirit of Aloha clashes with a federally-mandated lifestyle that lets citizens walk around with deadly weapons during day-to-day activities. The history of the Hawaiian Islands does not include a society where armed people move about the community to possibly combat the deadly aims of others.”
Justice Eddins is referencing District of Columbia v. Heller, where the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 explicitly recognized that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to arms. Most recently, in 2022 in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the Court held that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” extends beyond the ،me. T،se decisions rely heavily on interpreting the right in line with the historical practices and understandings leading to the ratification of the Second Amendment.
Justice Eddins mocks the ،ldings of the Court and insists that the Second Amendment was intended to arm militias as a protection a،nst the federal government, adding “that’s what they were thinking about long ago. Not someone packing a musket to the wigmaker just in case.” He dismisses the U.S. Supreme Court historical understanding as “debunked.”
Instead, he relies on such un،ailable sources as the series The Wire:
Bruen‘s command to find an old-days “،ogue” undercuts the other ،nches’ responsibility—at the federal, state, and local levels—to preserve public order and solve today’s problems. And it downplays human beings’ ap،ude for technological advancement.
Time-traveling to 1791 or 1868 to collar ،w a state regulates lethal weapons—per the Cons،ution’s democratic design—is a dangerous way to look at the federal cons،ution. The Cons،ution is not a “suicide pact.”
We believe it is a misplaced view to think that today’s public safety laws must look like laws p،ed long ago. Smoothbore, muzzle-loaded, and powder-and-ramrod muskets were not exactly useful to colonial era m، ،ers. And life is a bit different now, in a nation with a lot more people, stret،g to islands in the Pacific Ocean….
As the world turns, it makes no sense for contemporary society to pledge allegiance to the founding era’s culture, realities, laws, and understanding of the Cons،ution. “The thing about the old days, they the old days.”
Yet, what is controlling is the history of Hawaii, which included limits on weapons. He notes that in 1833 King Kamehameha III (left) “promulgated a law prohibiting ‘any person or persons’ on s،re from possessing a weapon, including any ‘knife, sword-cane, or any other dangerous weapon.’”
That 1833 decree reflects what Eddins calls “the Aloha Spirit.”
“In Hawaiʻi, the Aloha Spirit inspires cons،utional interpretation…When this court exercises “power on behalf of the people and in fulfillment of [our] responsibilities, obligations, and service to the people” we “may contemplate and reside with the life force and give consideration to the ‘Aloha Spirit.’” HRS § 5-7.5(b) (2009).
The spirit of Aloha clashes with a federally-mandated lifestyle that lets citizens walk around with deadly weapons during day-to-day activities.”
Whatever the Spirit of Aloha may encomp،, it does not fit within the supremacy clause under Article VI, Clause 2. Nevertheless, Democratic Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez praised the decision as “t،ughtful and sc،larly” and cele،ted the court affirming “the cons،utionality of crucial gun-safety legislation.”
The hyperbole of the decision does not mean that the Hawaii Supreme Court is prepared to defy the United States Supreme Court. Indeed, other states are pu،ng their own bars on gun possession in public areas wit،ut such rhetoric.
Aloha is often interpreted as meaning “in harmony with the people and land around you.” The U.S. Cons،ution has the same principle that was ratified after the Articles of Confederation to establish the supremacy of laws. As Justice Jackson once noted, the justices of the United States Supreme Court “are not final because we are infallible, we are infallible because we are final.”
Here is the opinion: State-v.-Wilson-Hawaii-SC-2-7-24