By: Andy Sher,
April 2, 2009

NASHVILLE — A Senate panel voted Wednesday to seal off public access to information about Tennessee’s 220,000 handgun permit holders, while in the House legislation allowing permit holders to bring firearms into state and local parks moved ahead.

But another House panel drew the line at a bill allowing professors and staffers at public universities to bring handguns onto campus as university police chiefs packed the hearing room in opposition.

Senate Judiciary Committee members earlier in the day voted 6-2 for the bill by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, that closes off information about who has handgun carry permits.

“I think really we’re trying to preserve as much dignity for gun permit applications as we have for drivers’ license applications,” argued Sen. Norris, noting that driver information is off limits.

Sen. Norris, who has a handgun carry permit, stripped from the bill a provision that made publishing information about handgun permit holders a criminal offense punishable by up to $2,500 in fines.

Attempts to close off the records, backed by the National Rifle Association, picked up new momentum this year after the Commercial Appeal of Memphis posted a database of all state handgun permit holders on its Web site.

Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, said she has “serious concerns” about the bill, noting, “I think if someone wants to carry a handgun it’s certainly their right to do that. But I think it’s certainly the public’s right to know who has a handgun.”

She noted the newspaper since has reported that handgun-carry permit holders recently were involved in three slayings, including one involving a parking dispute outside a restaurant.

“They may be exceptions to the rule,” the senator noted, “but if we don’t have any record of who has permits, then we won’t know about the abuses.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, a permit holder, said, “I’d love to know all the criminals who have guns, too.”

Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, a handgun permit holder, said permit holders have “a very good record of safety” generally speaking.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, successfully pressed for an amendment that requires the state comptroller to conduct reviews to ensure safety department officials are doing their jobs properly. The department has had problems with its oversight in the past.

Meanwhile, the House Budget Subcommittee delayed a vote on its version of the bill as members search for a compromise.

But in a 10-5 vote, the committee said the state won’t need to change signs that now ban firearms from state parks if a bill passes allowing handgun permit holders to bring them there.

The panel approved yet another bill allowing local governments to decide if they wish to allow permit holders to bring their firearms into local parks.

But House Criminal Practices and Procedures Subcommittee members balked at a proposal by Rep. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, to allow permit holders to bring handguns onto college campuses. It died for lack of a second.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Police Chief Bob Ratchford said, “I believe the committee made a wise decision.”

Safety handgun permit records show that one out of every four Tennessee lawmakers has a handgun carry permit.

On Tuesday, several dozen lawmakers including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, a handgun permit holder, went to a state and federally owned gun range in Tullahoma where they fired automatic and other weapons, lawmakers said.

According to an e-mail invitation, lawmakers were to be treated to a catered “gourmet” dinner at the annual event, which was cosponsored by Barrett Firearms Manufacturing and Hero-Gear LLC, a gun dealer.

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