Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bills would allow guns in restaurants, state parks

Carry-permit records would be closedBy Colby Sledge • THE TENNESSEAN • February 26, 2009 A House subcommittee passed a series of gun-related bills Wednesday that would allow handgun carry permit holders to carry their guns in restaurants, wildlife areas and state, but not local, parks. A bill that would close handgun records to the public also passed the House Judiciary Criminal Practice Subcommittee, where about a dozen gun bills were heard. The session was a victory for House Republicans. House Speaker Rep. Kent Williams, an Elizabethton Republican, attended in a show of support for a bill that would allow handguns in wildlife areas. During the meeting Williams sided with Democratic Rep. Janis Sontany to encourage lawmakers to remove local parks from a bill that would allow handguns in parks throughout the state. "I've seen too many fits of anger at these local parks," Williams said. "Where there's going to be and will be a fit of anger, we don't need somebody carrying a gun in that area." Williams and members of the committee were most concerned with fights during sporting events. Roy Wilson, Metro Parks director, said he was glad to hear his parks might not be included in the legislation. "You have all of these teams, and you know how these folks get crazy because they think the referee cheated. Those referees are my employees," Wilson said. Union County Republican Rep. Chad Faulkner argued to keep local parks in the bill, and the committee delayed the bill for a week to remove local parks from the stipulation. A separate bill, introduced by Strawberry Plains Republican Rep. Frank Niceley, that would allow handguns to be carried only in state parks passed to the full committee. The subcommittee also passed a bill that would allow handguns in restaurants until 11p.m. Keeping records secret The subcommittee passed a bill to make gun-permit application records confidential and would impose a maximum $2,500 fine for publicly disclosing such information. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, passed a subcommittee for the first time amid rancor over a database published on the Web site of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. The Tennessean published a similar database in May 2007, but removed it after handgun permit holders said their safety was compromised. Nashville resident Robert Smith, whose name appears in the handgun carry permit database, said he would prefer the records be closed to the public. "I don't particularly like anybody knowing I've got a handgun, period," Smith said. The public records have helped news outlets discover when convicted felons and domestic abusers have illegally obtained handgun permits, said Frank Gibson, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. If the records were closed, that could no longer happen, Gibson said. "You can't foresee any other glitches that might come along in the future," Gibson said. "There would be no way to check the information." The bill next goes to the full House Judiciary Committee. The Senate version of the bill has yet to be discussed in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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