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Bill to seal gun permits falls short in Tennessee

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  1. Freedom of Information
Open government advocates in Tennessee have narrowly succeeded in blocking passage of a measure that would have barred public access…

Open government advocates in Tennessee have narrowly succeeded in blocking passage of a measure that would have barred public access to gun permits, according to The Associated Press.

Frank Gibson, the executive director of the Coalition for Open Government in Tennessee, told the Reporters Committee earlier this year he thought it would be difficult to stop the measure. But in an interview Thursday he said key lawmakers in the Senate were able to turn the focus of the debate, just before the measure fell short by three votes, away from concerns about gun owners’ privacy rights and toward the open government implications.

The legislators first voted down an amendment Gibson’s group backed, which would have sealed the statewide permit database yet left the actual permits open on the local level. But in the process of discussing that amendment, he said, the lawmakers "shifted the discussion from gun rights to government records." By the time the vote was tallied on the bill sealing all permit data, he said, the measure had 14 supporters and 13 opponents — it needed 17 votes overall in order to pass.

A similar bill had already passed the House.

There were other factors at play, Gibson added: Several lawmakers who might have backed the bill in the Senate did not vote; and in recent days, some gun rights advocates seemed to waver in their support for the measure, realizing that use of the permits for marketing and political fundraising purposes would be curtailed if it passed.

Gibson noted that the bill’s defeat is especially noteworthy considering that some lawmakers earlier this year wanted to make it a misdemeanor to publish gun permit data. He said he’s happy to take this year’s win, but has no illusions that the issue is gone for good.

"It’s been proposed every year for the past 10 years; it’s not new," he said. "We figured that we were surely going to lose there, and we could still — but not this year."