POLL: Should handgun permit owners be allowed to go armed in public?
NASHVILLE - Allowing the owners of handgun-carry permits in Tennessee to go armed in public boosts safety not only for permit holders but the public in general, some Second Amendment advocates say.
But a Washington-based group says permit holders have sometimes caused "mayhem" when dealing with their personal lives and in "road rage" encounters over parking or driving.
The Violence Policy Center cites 10 Tennessee cases since December 2008 in which 13 people have died when shot by handgun-permit holders. In five of the 10, the shooters were convicted of murder, and in a sixth the man killed his girlfriend then killed himself.
"The gun lobby's worldview is the good guy is always stopping the bad guy," said Kristen Rand, legislative director for the Violence Policy Center. "I think we're just seeing the exact opposite."
Rand, whose group culled much information from news accounts of shootings, arrests and court proceedings, called the Tennessee figures the "tip of the iceberg."
Nationwide, the group estimates that, since May 2007, at least 381 people - including 11 law enforcement officers - have been killed by permit holders in incidents not considered as legitimate self-defense by police.
John Harris with the Tennessee Firearms Association, a gun-rights group, questioned basing the information on news accounts.
"First, by law, the Tennessee Department of Safety has to track data concerning handgun-permit holders who are charged with crimes and the disposition of those crimes," said Harris, an attorney.
He said the Violence Policy Center's "reliance on news reports, which seldom track dispositions, is suspect because they're intentionally selecting less reliable data as to how many of these permit holders were wrongfully charged in shooting incidents as opposed to those [deemed] justifiable."
He noted permit holders must pass criminal background checks and complete an approved handgun safety course.
Rand said the group relies on news accounts because many states either don't collect the data or else don't make it publicly available.
Violence Policy Center data, as well as additional reporting by the Chattanooga Times Free Press and other news organizations, show five permit holders in Tennessee have been convicted of first-degree murder or second-degree murder out of the total 10 cases the group found. Charges are pending in three other cases.
In a ninth case, a Memphis permit holder shot his girlfriend to death, then committed suicide as police prepared to arrest him on murder charges, according to news accounts.
In the 10th case, an apparent road rage incident in June, a Middle Tennessee permit holder shot another motorist in Ashland City. Despite being wounded in his chest and hip, the other man managed to wrestle the gun from the permit holder and shoot him dead, said Ashland Detective Jason Matlock. The wounded driver has been indicted for voluntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.
Among permit holders found guilty in a shooting was Michael Joe Hood of Cheatham County. Hood pleaded to three first-degree murder charges related to the shooting deaths of his sister, Susan Hood Binkley, her ex-husband Dale Binkley and the couple's 13-year-old son, Jackson, on March 27, 2010. He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences, according to news accounts.
Cheatham County Sheriff John Holder said possible motives included a dispute over recycling aluminum cans or a disagreement over a family dog. Family members told a Nashville television station that Hood was mentally ill and questioned how he was able to get a gun-carry permit in the first place.
Chattanooga Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Jerri Weary said city police "haven't had any cases" involving shootings by permit holders.
Officials with the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Affairs did not respond to repeated quests for comment.
But one NRA-ILA official directed a reporter to the online version of the NRA's American Rifleman magazine, which republishes news accounts of gun owners, including permit holders, who have defended themselves or stopped a crime using a handgun or rifle.
Many of the cases involved homeowners shooting or warning off would-be robbers or assailants. There were three incidents during roughly the same period covered by the Violence Policy Center in which Tennessee handgun-carry permit holders fended off would-be armed robberies.
In July 2009, as reported by the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, a 62-year-old traveling jewelry salesman who had an Alabama carry permit was attacked by four men wanting to rob him. The salesman fired, wounding two of the men, the paper reported, and no charges appear to have been filed against the salesman.
New focus on Tennessee's laws came about earlier this month with the arrest of state Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, a permit holder and champion of a 2010 law allowing permit holders to go armed in restaurants and bars, provided they don't drink.
Todd, 63, was charged with DUI and possessing a handgun while intoxicated after being stopped in Nashville going 20 mph over the posted speed limit. A .38-caliber handgun was found stuffed between the driver's seat and his vehicle's center console, police say.
After coming under pressure, Todd, a former Memphis policeman, resigned his chairmanships of a House Republican firearms task force and the powerful State and Local Government Committee.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, a gun-rights proponent, has replaced Todd as chairman of the firearms task force.
"Any deaths are too many," Matheny said. "We want to shoot for zero deaths, just like we want zero deaths on the highway."