Confidentiality of Permit Database may be limited
The Chattanooga Times Free Press is reporting that Lt. Governor Ramsey wants to allow limited access to the handgun permit database so long as the republishing of the entire database is restricted.
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Tennessee handgun permit records would be open to the public under limited circumstances but newspapers wouldn’t be able to post the information online or publish it if a compromise floated by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey makes headway.
“Since I’ve been lieutenant governor, the one thing I’ve tried to strive for is open government,” the lieutenant governor said Thursday during a trip to Chattanooga. “So the last thing I want to do is close records to the public, but, on this issue in particular ... I can honestly say I see no good in publishing those names in newspapers.”
As to where the information would be available, Lt. Gov. Ramsey suggested government Web sites.
“You can go online and look at them on the Department of Safety Web site,” he said. “They’ll be on there. You can go down there and get a hard copy and have them handed to you or something like that.”
Ramsey deputy Lance Frizzell later issued a clarification saying the lieutenant governor was not intending to say that information about handgun permit holders would be posted on the Safety Department’s Web site for the public.
“The lieutenant governor meant the Department of Safety should have access to them online for law enforcement purposes, so if law enforcement needs to print out the list they should have access to it online,” Mr. Frizzell said. “But the line is drawn with newspaper publishing or general online publishing.”
Regarding individuals, Mr. Frizzell said Lt. Gov. Ramsey is “very pro-public records, so if a person wants to inspect that record or inspect that list at the Department of Safety office or another appropriate office, that should be allowed. We don’t want to close these records up.”
As to whether news media would be able to use the information for print or broadcast, Mr. Frizzell said “that’s part of the uncertain territory that needs to be examined” among representatives of news media and Second Amendment rights advocates.
A bill making its way through the House Judiciary Committee would close off all public access to records of handgun permits. It makes publication a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to $2,500 in fines.
The measure and similar legislation has gained new life in the House where recently elected Speaker Kent Williams, R-Elizabethton, has been more open to handgun bills.
Many lawmakers, the National Rifle Association and at least some handgun permit holders are irate over the Commercial Appeal of Memphis’ posting of the names of the existing 220,000 permit holders.
Frank Gibson of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, which is fighting the effort to close all public access, said the “public and the press need to have access to certainly individual permit information. That’s the only way to ensure that permits aren’t being issued to the wrong people.”
He said “there may need to be some limitations placed on Web posting but not closing the records completely and certainly not punishing someone for publishing information in an individual file.”
Rep. Henry Fincher, D-Cookeville, a handgun permit holder and gun rights advocate who is co-sponsoring one of the records bills, said the “trick in these sort of disputes is to find the right balance between the public’s right to know and an individual’s right to privacy.”
“I’m not sure what they’re proposing,” he said of Lt. Gov. Ramsey. But he said he is “certainly open to reasonable suggestions to protect the public’s right to know.”