State legislatures from Arkansas to New York are trying to make records about who has a handgun permit off limits to the public. A bill in Tennessee – as currently written – would keep permit information from being released for any reason other than law enforcement.
Legislators nationwide are responding to a newspaper in New York that – following the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut – published a map revealing homeowners with handguns.
In Tennessee, several bills are in the works. Rep. William Lamberth of Sumner County says he’s concerned about the safety of gun owners, saying their homes could become targets.
“You know, surely a burglar wouldn’t go into a home where there’s a gun. Well, burglars don’t pay you the courtesy of coming in when you’re there. They come in when you’re not home, and that’s an item that they’re looking for.”
There is no state database easily accessible to the public now. However the Memphis Commercial Appeal has one posted online. It lists all the permit details except the street address.
Lamberth’s bill has been gaining Republican co-sponsors. Speakers in both chambers say gun legislation is not a priority, but they do have a personal stake in this bill. According to state records, both Ron Ramsey and Beth Harwell are permitted handgun carriers as of last year.
Rep. Lamberth says he plans to amend his legislation as soon as it comes up in committee, allowing anyone to present a government document showing a person should be disqualified for a gun permit. If they do have a permit, Lamberth says the inquirer could get access to the data, but just for that person.
State Sen. Stacey Campfield also has a bill meant to keep the information about gun permit holders from being widely published. It would limit the number of files that could be physically copied to 15 per day.
The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government opposes limiting public inspection of permits, saying there does not seem to be much evidence of break-ins as a result of a permit owner’s information being public.
“I have high regard for the Department of Safety,” writes TCOG’s Kent Flanagan. “But I also have a good understanding of human nature. Open records oversight is the only way law-abiding citizens have of knowing what is going on.”