See our Background Check Procedures policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.
Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (but not private sellers) to initiate a background check on the purchaser prior to sale of a firearm. Federal law provides states with the option of serving as a state “point of contact” and conducting their own background checks using state, as well as federal, records and databases, or having the checks performed by the FBI using only the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database. (Note that state files are not always included in the federal database.)
Hawaii is a point of contact state for NICS. In Hawaii, permits to acquire firearms are processed by local law enforcement.1
In Hawaii, anyone wishing to acquire a firearm must first obtain a permit.2 A permit to acquire a handgun must be obtained for each handgun purchase and the permit is void if not used within ten days of issuance.3 A permit to acquire a long gun entitles the permittee to purchase long guns for a period of one year from the date of issue.4 Permit applications are processed directly through the county police chief, who must perform a search of NICS.5
An applicant for a permit must sign a waiver authorizing the disclosure of mental health records.6 Hawaii requires any public health provider to disclose mental health records if the local chief of police requests them for use in issuing a permit to acquire a firearm, provided the applicant has signed the required waiver.7
In 2017, Hawaii enacted a law requiring the chief of police to report individuals whose permit applications are denied because the applicants are prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm under state or federal law.8 This law, known as “lie and try,” requires the chief to report denied individuals to:
- The prosecuting attorney in the county where the permit was denied;
- The state’s Attorney General;
- The United States Attorney for the District of Hawaii; and
- The state Director of Public Safety.
If the permit to acquire was denied because the applicant is subject to a domestic violence order, the chief of police must, within three business days from the date of denial, send written notice to the court that issued the order. When the director of public safety receives notice that an applicant has been denied a permit because of a prior criminal conviction, the director of public safety must determine whether the applicant is currently serving a term of probation or parole. If so, the director must send a written notice of the denial to the applicant’s probation or parole officer.
Under federal law, persons who have been issued state permits to purchase or possess firearms are exempt from background checks if those permits were issued: 1) within the previous five years in the state in which the transfer is to take place; and 2) after an authorized government official has conducted a background investigation, including a search of the NICS database, to verify that possession of a firearm would not be unlawful.9 Holders of concealed weapons licenses and permits to acquire firearms in Hawaii are exempt from background checks when purchasing a firearm, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) chart that outlines those permits that qualify as alternatives to the federal Brady Act. Please note that ATF’s exempt status determination is subject to change without notice.
Additionally, every person arriving in Hawaii who brings or causes to be brought a firearm into Hawaii must register the firearm with the chief of police of the county of the person’s place of business or, if there is no place of business, the person’s residence or, if there is neither a place of business nor residence, the person’s place of sojourn.10 When registering their firearm, such persons must be fingerprinted and photographed by the police department of the county of registration, although this requirement shall be waived where fingerprints and photographs are already on file with the police department.11 The police department must perform an inquiry on the person by using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System before any determination to register a firearm is made.12
In 2016, Hawaii enacted a law authorizing county police departments to enroll firearms permit applicants and individuals who are registering their firearms into the federal Rap Back service. The FBI defines the Rap Back service as a service that “allows authorized agencies to receive notification of activity on individuals who hold positions of trust (e.g. school teachers, daycare workers) or who are under criminal justice supervision or investigation, thus eliminating the need for repeated background checks on a person from the same applicant agency.”13
Firearm transfers by private sellers (non-firearms dealers) are subject to the state’s permitting requirement. See the Hawaii Private Sales section.
- Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Instant Criminal Background Check System Participation Map, at http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/nics/general-information/participation-map (last visited Aug. 24, 2015).
- Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-2(a).
- Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-2(e).
- Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-2(c).
- Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-3.5.
- Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-2(j).
- 18 U.S.C. § 922(t)(3), 27 C.F.R. § 478.102(d).
- Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-3(a).
- Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 134-2, 3; 846-2.7(b)(42.