Hawaii’s Young Guns
Meet Honolulu’s new generation of gun owners.
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Photos: Elyse Butler Mallams
Despite Hawaii’s strict firearm laws, gun culture is not only alive in the Islands, but thriving. Firearm registrations have increased by nearly 450 percent over the past 14 years, according to the state attorney general’s office. Nearly 23,000 firearm permits were processed by the state last year alone. “Whenever there is talk about limiting availability, it drives the sale of guns,”says Harvey Gerwig, president and director of the Hawaii Rifle Association. So who are these gun-toting Honolulu residents? The state doesn’t collect demographic data, but anecdotally shop owners say a large portion of their business comes from younger, first-time owners. We set out to find the new generation of Honolulu gun owners. These are their stories.
Photo: Elyse Butler Mallams
Occupation: Cable fabrication technician
Political leanings: Independent
After president Barack Obama’s re-election, hundreds of potential Oahu gun owners rounded the block at the Honolulu Police Department’s Beretania Street headquarters to obtain firearm permits. Each day for weeks, people waited hours, some the whole day, mostly out of get-it-while-you-can fear that Obama’s re-election could mean a ban on certain kinds of guns. Brandon Shimabukuro, 30, was one of those people.
“There was a lot of talk that the AR-15 was going to be illegal. It was the talk of the town,” Shimabukuro says.
The semi-automatic rifle, a version of the M16 rifle used by the U.S. military, is one of the most popular firearms available. Multiple manufacturers produce variations of it, and the gun has been at the center of several recent mass shootings, including Sandy Hook and Aurora. The gun has become the prototypical “assault weapon” to some lawmakers seeking a ban.
But Shimabukuro now calls his decision “foolish.” He waited in line for six hours to register a gun he wasn’t completely sold on in the first place.
“It was money I didn’t have, but, as a person who likes to collect, I just went out and bought any ol’ one I could find. It wasn’t like I looked into the functionality and the specs, like I do all my other pistols and rifles,” he says.
The long lines have since dwindled. A couple of weeks before we interviewed Shimabukuro for this story, he went with a friend to HPD headquarters to register a firearm and only four people were in line.
The Kaneohe resident considers himself a gun-rights supporter, something he inherited from his military dad. He first learned to shoot at the age of 12, when his dad showed him the safe and proper way to handle a pistol.
“It’s always been kind of a family thing,” he says. “He taught us not to be scared of firearms, how to handle them safely and know what you’re doing.”
Shortly after reaching the legal age to buy a gun, at 22, he attended the Hawaii Shooting Sports Fair at Koko Head Shooting Complex. He tried out a whole range of options and settled on a Ruger P95, 9 mm handgun. “It was a fun beginner’s gun,” he says. “I thought it was going to be the one gun that I would ever own.”
Eight years later, Shimabukuro’s collection has grown to six guns. Unlike other gun owners we talked to, Shimabukuro is not necessarily concerned about owning guns for personal protection. Instead, he’s more interested in the shooting aspect and target practice.
“A lot of people stereotype me as Watch out for the zombies or Watch out for the aliens, that kind of deal,” he says. “I’m not even like that. This is just a hobby, it’s a passion, something I love.”
The price of ammunition has also prompted him to become adept at making his own ammo. He buys most of the components online, such as casings and bullets. The gunpowder he buys locally. It’s cheaper to make ammunition himself, he says. “It’s way better than packaged ammunition out there, too.”
It’s not every day that he runs into people who are adamantly anti-gun, but, when he does, he likes to deal with the issue hands-on.
“I ask them if they’ve ever fired a gun before,” he says. Then he takes them to the Koko Head Shooting Complex to find out what it’s like. “They think it’s so dangerous to just touch one. But once they get the feel of it with an instructor, they feel more comfortable.”
And, a lot of times they go on to become gun owners, he says. One friend, he jokes, now has more guns than he does.