By: Andy Sher, Times Free Press
May 5, 2009

NASHVILLE — The House voted 83-12 with no debate Monday night to make secret the names of all 220,000 Tennesseans who have state issued handgun-carry permits.

“This would make information contained in your handgun carry permit private and not open to the public,” Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, told colleagues, who passed the bill seconds later.

Meanwhile, House negotiators earlier in the day backpedaled on another permit-related bill and voted 3-2 to adopt a Senate version allowing permit holders to bring loaded pistols into bars and nightclubs.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, the Senate sponsor of the measure shutting down public access to permit holders’ records, said he may bring the bill to the Senate floor next week.

Former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, who blocked the bill from coming out of a subcommittee as speaker last year, voted against it on the floor.

“We should know the reason why these different people’s permits have been revoked,” Rep. Naifeh said later.

Proponents argue current law violates gun permit holders’ privacy rights. The bill is opposed by a coalition of news organizations and open record advocacy groups.

Since 2005, The Associated Press has reported, nearly 1,200 people have had their licenses revoked for felony convictions or suspended for court orders of protection or pending criminal charges.

Safety Department officials at one point lost the ability to check criminal records for permit renewals. It was only when news accounts revealed a number of felons could still legally carry loaded guns that top officials knew they had a problem.

The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, which has started checking Shelby County residents charged in shooting against permit records, reported last weekend a fourth case involving an alleged murder by a permit holder. That brings the total number to four since Feb. 6.

Earlier in the day, House members quickly backed down in a House/Senate conference committee on their version of the bill allowing guns in restaurants selling alcohol. The House-passed bill provided for a continued ban on guns between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. It also prohibited guns in establishments restricted to persons 21 and older.

Both were intended to keep guns out of bars, nightclubs and what one senator has referred to as “honky tonks.”

Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, who wound up voting against the conference committee report, suggested colleagues were being hypocritical.

They have “complained so many times about federal mandates imposed on us at the state level, and here we’ve got a bill that pre-empts local government from saying we don’t want it,” he said.

“Booze and guns” do not mix, he said.

Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, and Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, the Senate and House sponsors of the bill, said the bill still would not allow permit holders to drink while carrying a gun.

They also said establishments could post signs banning permit holders from carrying their guns into their venues.

Tennessee Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris said doing away with curfew and age restrictions makes “it a cleaner, easier bill to implement in the long run. People aren’t going to have to worry about … whether one, whether or not we have an 11 p.m. curfew.”

He said some 30 states have similar bills and haven’t experienced problems.

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