Tennessee bills focus on gun owners

On February 13, 2009, in News 2009, by Mark Norris

Want to open location access, privatize list

By Richard Locker, Memphis Commercial Appeal
February 13, 2009

NASHVILLE — Tennessee legislators have filed a rash of new bills to allow guns in state and local parks, restaurants serving alcohol and even schools and also limiting public access to lists of gun-carry permit holders.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who is sponsoring two of the gun bills, said Thursday he believes the measures stand a much better chance of passing this year as a result of the new GOP majority in the legislature.

Supported by the Tennessee Firearms Association and the National Rifle Association, lawmakers have tried for years to pass bills allowing gun-carry permit holders to take their guns into places serving alcohol as long as they are not drinking themselves, but the legislation was killed in House subcommittees controlled by Democrats.

This year, with the state House reorganized under a nominal GOP majority, the volume of bills loosening restrictions on where permit-holders may take guns has sharply increased. So has the scope of places the bills propose to allow the guns, including state and local public parks, colleges and universities and potentially into high schools.

There is also a renewed push this year on bills to make confidential the identities of gun-carry permit holders at the state Department of Safety, the licensing agency, and to make it a crime for anyone, including media organizations, to publish identities of anyone with the permits. Currently, applications bear a disclaimer that information submitted is subject to the state public records law.

As of Thursday afternoon, 18 bills were filed to loosen restrictions on where guns may be taken, four were filed to make the information confidential and two others were filed to exempt from criminal prosecution people who shoot others in the protection of their property.

The confidentiality bills are sparked in part by a campaign by gun organizations and permit-holders against The Commercial Appeal’s publication on its Web site of a searchable database of Tennessee gun-carry permit holders and by news reports that identified the Cordova man charged this week with the shooting death of another man as a gun-carry permit holder.

Norris said the newspaper’s publication of the database “has added to the concern by a number of people who fear for their safety — either those who have permits and may be identified as having weapons in their homes, and those who by exclusion are not identified and now feel susceptible to those who may look to see who are not permitted.”

“And I share those concerns.”

The newspaper and lawmakers have been flooded with calls and e-mails demanding the database be removed on the grounds that it is an invasion of privacy, opens the possibility of identity theft and lets criminals see who has guns and who doesn’t.

Gun owner David Waldrip of Germantown, an information technology specialist, said it comes down to personal privacy and safety.

“All manner of things are public information, but people find it very disconcerting that they have gone through stringent requirements set forth by the state in order to get a carry permit, and their decision to do so is made public,” Waldrip said. “Along with that, the matter of personal safety is entered into the equation.”

The database had been posted online for two months without controversy prior to the Cordova shooting.

Chris Peck, editor of The Commercial Appeal, said Thursday the newspaper continues “to see value in posting the concealed weapon permit list — and here’s why: The news event involving a shooting at Trinity Commons over a dispute over parking has made the matter of who in our community is carrying concealed weapons of interest.”

He said the newspaper has removed birth dates and street names of permit holders and the database now includes only names, year of birth, city, state, ZIP code and permit issue and expiration dates.

“The level of uninformed response has been disappointing,” Peck said. “It really defies logic that people say this makes their homes vulnerable to targeting by gun thieves, because first of all, most houses in our community have guns in them that don’t require any registration and thus are not on a public database, and most people in our community don’t have gun-carry permits.

“You have to ask whether somebody who wants a gun would target someone who has a gun and is trained to use it.”

The intersection of First and Second Amendment rights is an emerging issue, with databases and the movement of news organizations to Web sites.

“I think databases and aggregation of information have raised new issues for free speech advocates to consider,” said Gene Policinski, executive director of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center in Nashville. “The ability to tie names, personal information, locations of homes is something that wasn’t so easily accomplished in the past.”

Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute in Florida, a media studies organization, said the fact that the database was not controversial until last week’s shooting “suggests there are people who found value in it and didn’t object.

“Lets say I’m a parent and I want to know if my kid is going to be riding in a car with somebody who has a concealed gun carry permit. That would be important for me. “

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