Last week, the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a controversial bill (SB 3755) that would not only seal all information about conceal-and-carry gun permits, but also penalize anyone, including journalists, who publish the information, possibly with jail time and/or severe fines.
Under the legislation, anyone who publish any information about citizens who own a gun permit (or even those who have applied for one) can be charged with a Class E felony — punishable by one to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Media groups and press advocacy organizations strongly criticized the measure, alleging that the bill is a form of prior restraint and obstructs the basis of government openness, especially with the harsh penalties violators could face.
“A Nashville television station reported in February that gun permits were issued to over a dozen people who had felony convictions or who received a permit, committed a felony then renewed the permit,” said Frank Gibson of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. “If they close the records, there is no way to look over the shoulder of the government.”
State Rep. Rob Briley (D) postponed action on similar bill (HB 3137) in the House until he receives a response from the state attorney general about its constitutionality – in particular whether the Class E felony penalty falls under prior restraint.
The state Senate plans to take up the measure again on April 4.