State legislature takes up 26 handgun bills

On March 19, 2008, in News 2008, by Mark Norris

Some proposals call for looser laws

By DANICA WRIGHT BOOTH, Tennessean
March 19, 2008

As U.S. Supreme Court justices debate the constitutionality of a Washington, D.C., law banning handguns in the city, debate continues in the Tennessee legislature over 26 separate bills on handguns.

The bills include everything from allowing staff and faculty on college and high school campuses to carry guns to making it a felony to publish any listing of people who currently hold permits to carry a concealed weapon.

Information contained in handgun permit applications would be confidential under a bill sponsored by Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the legislation on Tuesday.

The current law only protects a gun permit holder’s driver’s license information, while the new bill would make other personal information such as the address and phone number confidential.

Anyone who released such information would be charged with a felony.

The companion bill in the House is scheduled for a subcommittee hearing today.

Open records in jeopardy

Supporters of the confidentiality bill worry the current law — under which the records are open to the public — would allow potential burglars to view the records to see where they could steal guns.

Opponents, such as Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, are concerned the bill violates the First Amendment because it would place a “prior restraint” on publication.

“This legislation, if it passed, would close all the records,” Gibson said, “so the public would have no way of knowing whether the state had issued a gun permit to a person with mental illness or to a convicted felon.”

Also up for consideration today is a bill that would allow those who voluntarily commit themselves to a mental institution to be able to reapply for a permit after seven years, a bill that would increase the punishment for those who use a gun during a crime, and a bill that would allow those with carry permits to take guns into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

State Sen. Doug Jackson is behind the bill that would change the 1997 gun permit legislation that initially banned guns from establishments that serve alcohol.

According to Jackson, creating such gun-free zones as restaurants and college campuses empowers criminals.

“The right to bear arms is as fundamental as the right to breathe,” Jackson said.

Citing a robbery and murder in Murfreesboro, Jackson said if either the O’Charley’s manager or employee had been able to carry a handgun, the situation could have ended differently. “We can pass gun control laws. The reality is when you’re confronted with violence, it’s up to you to take care of you and your family,” Jackson said.

State Rep. Stacey Campfield’s bill to allow weapons on campus was amended to not include students.

“There have been tons of shootings beforehand where there was no one there to defend any of the students or the teachers or the faculty,” Campfield said, “and it’s just a killing zone.”

As for the Washington case, Gun City employee Terry Holmas worries a ruling against owning handguns would have a trickle-down effect.

“If they decide that in our nation’s capital that we don’t have a constitutional right to bear arms, that changes the whole nature of our Constitution …,” Holmas said.

“If we lose that privilege in any one state, it has the potential for all states to falter.”

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