Co-sponsor of bill to close handgun records requested database - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Co-sponsor of bill to close handgun records requested database

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A copy of the state's handgun permit database helped a state lawmaker challenge exaggerated cost estimates for a gun rights bill he had sponsored.

But that didn't stop Rep. Mike Bell, a Riceville Republican, from co-sponsoring another proposal this year to shut down public access to the same records.

Bell's original proposal would allow people with carry permits to bring their handguns into areas managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Legislative analysts first estimated that the bill would lead the state to lose $50,000 in revenue from the 50 permit holders who pay average fines $1,000 for violations each year, he said.

But by comparing the handgun database with the list of violators on TWRA lands, Bell said he was able to show that only 13 permit holders had been fined a total of $300 over a two-year span.

The negligible loss in state revenues would give the bill a much greater chance of passage.

"I would not have been able to prove that without this (permit) information," Bell said. "But if I'd had my way, this information would still be private."

That opinion echoes the stance of state Republican Party spokesman Bill Hobbs, who last week requested a copy of the database from the Safety Department on the same day he issued a press release blasting House Democrats for killing the bill to close the records.

"We would have preferred to be unable to get the records," Hobbs said.

But unlike Hobbs, Bell said he has no intention of using the information for political campaigning or fundraising.

Hobbs and Bell were among 18 non-media requests for records from the state handgun carry permit database over the last two years, according to the results of an information request by The Associated Press.

About a dozen media organization asked for the information over the same period, said Safety Department spokesman Mike Browning.

Those asking for the handgun information included elected officials, handgun advocates and law enforcement officials.

Requests came from the founder of a group called National Handgun Owners in Germantown; the president of the Handgun Club of America in Norwich, Vt.; and a Murfreesboro man who operates a Web site called LegallyArmed.com.

A staffer for U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., in December asked for a list of handgun permit holders in her congressional district that stretches from Clarksville to suburban Memphis. A message left with Blackburn's office in Washington late Friday was not immediately returned.

State Reps. Mike McDonald, D-Portland, and Donna Rowland, R-Murfreesboro, also asked for county-specific records.

Others who have asked for information from the database have included the Tennessee Sheriff's Association, information industry giant Lexis Nexis (four requests) and federal prosecutors who asked for information about permit holders in Cocke County in 2006.

"I'm relieved that it's groups that are using it for legitimate purposes," said Rep. Henry Fincher, D-Cookeville and another co-sponsor of the effort to close the records. "My fear is what happens when somebody uses their rights to this information for identity theft."

The Department of Safety says information like Social Security numbers is redacted from handgun permits before they are released.

Fincher said he's not disturbed by the efforts among Republicans to obtain the information while it's still available.

"The hypocrisy is not in them seeking to close the records and requesting them," he said. "The hypocrisy is the Republican Party trying to raise money over a Democratic bill. That ain't cool."

Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect and a former sheriff, is the main House sponsor of the bill that would close the records and make it a crime to publish information from the database. Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris of Collierville introduced the companion bill in the upper chamber.

House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, on Wednesday exercised his position's power to help override an earlier subcommittee vote to advance the closed records bill.

Bell's proposal to allow handguns in TWRA areas has unanimously passed in the Senate, but has stalled in the House.

Read HB3137 and HB0132 on the General Assembly's Web site at: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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