Tenn. House panel votes to end public access to handgun permit data

Associated Press • Mar 18, 2009 at 12:00 AM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s database of state-issued permits to carry loaded handguns would be closed from public inspection under a proposal headed for a full House vote.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 6-4 on Wednesday to advance the measure sponsored by Rep. Eddie Bass, a Prospect Democrat and a retired sheriff.

Bass argued that making the permit information public is a violation of personal privacy. He unsuccessfully tried to squash a provision to keep a current requirement for the Safety Department to deliver statistical reports about handgun permits to the Legislature.

“We all know what statistics do,” Bass said. “Someday they’re going to be turned around to use against our program.”

Frank Gibson, who runs the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, cited several cases where media investigations revealed that felons and other ineligible people held handgun permits. The Associated Press is a member of the group.

Last year, WTVF-TV in Nashville reported that the state had lost access to the FBI national criminal database and was improperly renewing handgun permits for convicted felons. The Tennessean reported four months later that the state was slow to revoke the permits mistakenly issued to felons.

“We have no reason to doubt ... the Department of Safety’s claim that they have fixed that problem,” Gibson said. “But we would like to point out that the problem would not have been fixed if the press hadn’t pointed out that it was broken in the first place.”

Gibson said another newspaper report showed that a woman was able to inform police that her stalker had obtained a handgun permit.

Bass appeared unimpressed.

“No one has shown me any valid reason for the world to know your address and your date of birth and everything else,” he said. “It’s just a gross violation of a person’s privacy.”

Rep. Henry Fincher, D-Cookeville and a co-sponsor of the bill, said the latest version of the measure removes any penalties for disclosing information about handgun permits.

The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, which stirred the latest debate over public access to permit records by posting the full database on its Web site last year, this month found dozens of handgun permit recipients in Shelby County with histories of arrests or convictions for robbery, assault and other crimes.

State law says the permits are for law-abiding, mentally healthy citizens who are at least 21 years old. Criminal background checks on applicants are required when permits are issued and renewed. The licenses are valid for four years. (AP)

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