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Hawaii Law Places Gun Owners Into National Database

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

There's been a lot of talk about gun laws since the mass shooting in Orlando that killed 49 people plus the gunman. But one state has actually done something in the past week. Hawaii has passed a law to place all of its gun owners in an FBI database. This is the first state law of its kind in the U.S. It was sponsored by Hawaii State Senator Will Espero, a Democrat. I asked Senator Espero how it would work.

WILL ESPERO: If a Hawaii gun owner is arrested on the mainland, then local police will be notified and a red flag will be raised that we will be able to act accordingly. If the arrest is like jaywalking or littering, the gun owner will likely have nothing to fear. However, if it is a more serious incident such as domestic violence, sexual assault, then obviously these are crimes that we'll have to follow and watch and see what happens with this individual and with this case.

MCEVERS: OK. Let me just clarify, make sure I understand it correctly. Let's say I am a gun owner in the state of Hawaii. I will have already been registered with the state database. I am now going to be registered with the feds, and if I commit any kind of, you know - fairly serious crime either in Hawaii or in any other state, that will raise a red flag with federal authorities. That's right?

ESPERO: Correct. What the local police department told us about 20 individuals are impacted by this every year with the bill. It is in continuous monitoring and with that continuous monitoring, we don't have to wait 'til an individual buys another firearm. We will be notified on fairly real time.

MCEVERS: What about people who purchase guns, say, from the internet or at a gun show, and they don't go through the background check process?

ESPERO: Well, in Hawaii we have the strictest - some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. And we do background checks, and we make certain that people bringing guns to Hawaii must be fingerprinted and registered. So I don't think that's going to be too much of a problem.

MCEVERS: Because you yourself are gun owner, no?

ESPERO: Yeah, I have a small 22-caliber that I purchased over 20 years ago. And what's interesting with that even here in Hawaii since I purchased it, no one has ever done any follow-up. I've never gotten anything in the mail. I could have lost it. I mean, it's not being tracked as a firearm. I mean, that's our law as it is today.

But if I am arrested, then certainly police will be notified, and they will be checking to see the status of my arrest and my case.

MCEVERS: As you said, Hawaii stands out from the rest of the country in many ways. It's a very Democratic state, already has some of the strictest gun regulations and it is, you know - it's remote. I mean, is it realistic to hope that other states would pass similar laws?

ESPERO: I believe it is because nobody - no one's guns are being confiscated without due process. There's no reason why other states should fear this measure as Hawaii has it being implemented because it's adding another protection, another layer for our families and our communities. And, again, as long as you're a law abiding gun owner and not arrested - and I'm going to guess that's the vast majority of Hawaii gun owners - they won't even know that this bill is being implemented.

MCEVERS: Hawaii State Senator Will Espero, thank you very much.

ESPERO: Thank you, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.