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Hawaii statute prohibiting US nationals from owning a firearm — struck down

U.S. Federal District Court building, Honolulu, HI

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A federal judge in Honolulu has struck down the Hawaii Revised Statute 134-2 (HRS 134-2), which prohibits non-citizen US nationals from owning a firearm, paving the way for a current Hawaii resident, who was born in American Samoa, as well as all other US nationals in the state, to apply for a permit to obtain a firearm.

The move came Monday this week after Chief U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright of the federal court in Honolulu issued an order approving a joint motion by both the plaintiff — Alanoa Nickel — and the defendants — including Hawaii Attorney General Clare E. Connors — that HRS 134-2’s “citizenship requirement be permanently enjoined as it applies to non-citizen United States nationals.”

As reported yesterday by Samoa News, the plaintiff filed a civil complaint on July 27th against the defendants over the state’s law banning non-citizen U.S. Nationals from applying for a firearm permit in the state. Under federal law, person’s born in American Samoa — such as Nickel — are US Nationals. (See yesterday’s Samoa News edition for details.)

Nickel also filed a preliminary injunction motion on July 27th requesting the court for an order enjoining the defendants from enforcement of Hawaii law as applied to the Plaintiff and other noncitizen U.S. Nationals to the extent it prohibits them from purchasing and owning firearms based on their status as noncitizen U.S. Nationals.


In the preliminary injunction motion, plaintiff points out that six years ago, the Honolulu federal court decided a nearly identical case — Fotoudis v. City & County of Honolulu — where the court enjoyed HRS 134-2’s prohibition on noncitizen’s owning firearms as applied to permanent resident aliens i.e. green card holders.

The court ruled in the Fotoudis case that:

•     Defendants and/or their officers, agents, servants, employees, and all persons in active concert or participation with them who receive actual notice of this injunction, are enjoined from precluding lawful permanent resident aliens residing in the State of Hawaii from applying for a permit to acquire firearms as set forth in HRS § 134-2(d).

Since then, Nickel argued that defendants have maintained H.R.S. 134-2’s prohibition on firearm ownership as applied to noncitizen U.S. Nationals such as the Plaintiff.

“People born in America Samoa, are the only ones affected by this law because people born in the other territories are considered U.S. citizens,” the plaintiff argued.

“There is no reason for this ban for all the reasons laid out in Fotoudis case,” the plaintiff further argued and points out that U.S. Nationals, American Samoans owe “permanent allegiance” to the United States.

“American Samoa is noted for having the highest rate of military enlistment of any U.S. state or territory,” the motion states and cited a 2015 Samoa News story with the high recruitment of US Army from American Samoa. It notes that Nickel is an honorably discharged veteran of the Air National Guard. Additionally, people born in American Samoa may hold U.S. passports.

According to the plaintiff, there can be no argument that American Samoan U.S. Nationals are part of “‘the people’ protected by the Fourth Amendment, and by the First and Second Amendments” because they are part of our “national community” and/or “have otherwise developed sufficient connection with this country to be considered part of that community.” (The quotations were cited from another federal case.)

“American Samoans are part of the People and thus have Second Amendment rights. As such, the only question is what level of scrutiny to apply to Hawaii’s ban on them merely owning firearms,” the plaintiff argued.


According to Seabright’s stipulation and order issued Monday, the “parties agree that the permanent injunction and ruling in the Fotoudis [case] should be extended so as to apply equally in this case.”

“Therefore, it is stipulated that HRS § 134-2(d)’s citizenship requirement be permanently enjoined as it applies to non-citizen United States nationals,” Seabright concluded.