Tennessee is not yet the worst state for lax gun laws, but it's not for lack of trying. Like more than a dozen other states bunched at the bottom of the heap with laws that encourage easy access and use of guns, our state Legislature keeps pushing the envelope for new ways to loosen our already stretched gun laws.
Legislators are now sponsoring a collection of three bills that would allow people with permits to carry concealed guns to take their guns into bars and state and local parks and wildlife areas. A fourth proposes to end public access to the state's list of citizens who have obtained permits to carry concealed weapons, known as CCW permits, and to make publication of such information illegal and subject to a $2,500 fine.
Why? As it turns out, just over 25 percent of our state legislators - a bipartisan group 34 of the Legislature's 132 members - hold CCW permits. That's a far higher concentration - about 5 times higher - of card-carrying CCW gun-toters in the Legislature than in the general public.
Among Tennessee's 4,687,000 citizens ages 18 and older, for example, less than 5 percent, or 219,236, possess CCW permits, and that's a huge number. (Permit holders are required to be at least 21 and to pass a general handgun safety course.)
The three lawmakers who proposed the four bills - Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville; Sen. Tim Burchette, R-Knoxville; and Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson - all have state issued CCW permits, this paper's Nashville correspondent Andy Sher reported last week. House versions of the bills recently were recommended by a House handgun study committee, led by Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, another CCW permit holder.
All four of the bills are dangerous - three to public safety, the fourth to the public's right to know who has a state concealed-carrying of weapons permit. Each should be vigorously opposed.
The safety issues should be readily apparent. Carrying concealed weapons into bars that serve alcohol could not be more casually enticing to violence. Bars already are among the most frequent venues for volatile conflict.
Carrying concealed weapons into parks and wildlife refuges is inherently detrimental to public safety because of the remoteness of protected lands. All related studies compiled for the recent report on the Bush administration's proposal to allow gun-carrying in national parks, demonstrated the superior safety of parks where guns are not allowed.
That report didn't deter President Bush. He signed the NRA-backed proposal as an executive order before he left office. NRA executives, following the decade-long push in state legislatures to pass laws allowing more and easier access to guns, have continued to encourage similar laws among state officials.
Tennessee's Legislature has been extremely compliant with the NRA agenda. Absent strong public opposition to the latest four bills, these are likely to pass as well.
Sen. Jackson fails to see the folly of the bills. The bill he is sponsoring to allow CCW permit holders to carry guns into bars would not allow them to do so if they were drinking, and they must be out by 11 p.m. So what? People who visit bars, whether or not they drink, may be no less subject to reckless behavior..
The bill to close public CCW permit records is misguided for several reasons. Thorough studies have shown that criminals and prior felons often are able to obtain CCW permits because of inadequate background checks and record-keeping. Revocation processes are similarly leaky, where they exist at all, for people convicted of crimes after they have obtained CCW permits.
The public should be able to check the state's CCW permit records because public monitoring can help ensure that people who do not qualify for such permits are reported. In any event, public permits are state actions that should remain public record as a matter of principle, and as a matter of compliance with the state's Public Meetings and Records Act. State government simply should not be allowed to issue state permits to a citizen or any group for any action without making these public actions and grants of authority a matter of public records.
Tennessee is already far out on the path of negligent access to use of guns. In 24 of the 25 key areas of public gun safety policy tracked by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the Tennessee is on the wrong side of public safety. See http://www.bradycampaign.org/legislation/state/viewstate.php?st=tn#shootfirst None of these policies pertain to 2nd Amendment rights to gun ownership. They all pertain to public safety.
Our Legislature should be tightening gun access laws, not drilling holes in them. The four new proposed laws should be rejected.