Vaughn handgun bill intended to help Iraq vets fails in subcommittee

Hank Hayes • Mar 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Tennessee state Rep. Nathan Vaughn said Thursday he was trying to help Iraq War veterans by sponsoring legislation to allow someone who voluntarily seeks mental health hospitalization to obtain a handgun carry permit after seven years.

The National Rifle Association- backed bill failed on a voice vote in a House Criminal Practice and Procedure Subcommittee on Wednesday.

Vaughn, D-Kingsport, said the NRA contacted him about sponsoring the bill, and he thought it made sense.

“A lot of folks who are going into Iraq are coming back, and there is some period of adjustment. ... Some of the folks are saying ‘I know if I have to get some mental health treatment, I’m not going to be eligible to continue my handgun carry permit,’” Vaughn said. “It’s just kind of tragic. ... They are out there fighting for this country, and all kinds of negative things are happening to them when they come back home. We need to be doing more to help them. ... We’re afraid that honest people just ought not have guns, that somehow only criminals ought to be the ones to have guns, and I just think that’s wrong.”

Under present law, commitment to or hospitalization in a mental institution disqualifies someone from obtaining a handgun carry permit.

Those involuntarily committed to a mental institution would have remained ineligible to get a gun permit under Vaughn’s bill.

But regardless of mental status, instances of war veterans committing gun crimes appear to be rising.

Last January, the New York Times reported finding 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. More than half the killings involved guns.

In recent years, Tennessee’s Democratic-controlled House has been the place where gun bills die.

The House Criminal Practice and Procedure Subcommittee has more Democratic lawmakers than Republicans. House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, was also in Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting considering several pieces of handgun legislation, including Vaughn’s. Naifeh can cast votes in any subcommittee or committee meeting.

All of those bills failed.

The meeting began with a Comedy Central video, introduced by state Rep. Rob Briley, D-Nashville, that parodied one bill to allow gun permit holders to carry guns into places where alcohol is served.

The “Colbert Report” segment joked that the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, is try to “put the loon back in saloon.”

As the meeting progressed, Vaughn indicated he knew what would happen with his handgun carry permit bill — the first gun-related bill he has sponsored.

“It seemed somewhat organized as to what was going to happen,” he explained. “There was not a lot of communication. ... I understand people have to vote their conscience, but when folks just basically have this silent type kind of treatment ... and not really saying what their concerns were about the bill ... it’s a non-responsive action. It was understood what was going to happen.”

Vaughn is expected to seek re-election to his 2nd House District seat this year and be opposed by Colonial Heights Republican Tony Shipley.

For more information go to www.legislature.state.tn.us and click on “Legislation.” The bill’s number is HB 3293.

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