Editorial: Shooting blanks

Handgun carry permits should remain public record in Tennessee
Feb. 20, 2013 @ 08:46 PM

It would be wrong for the state to pass a law blocking public access to handgun carry permits. Thankfully, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey agrees.

The National Rifle Association is pushing a bull that would make handgun carry permits in Tennessee yet another public record gone private. Since the NRA seems to get whatever it wants in Tennessee, why not reach for the stars and back legislation denying the public access to such records? Because it is a bad idea. If Ron Ramsey, one of the strongest legislative allies for gun rights, thinks so, then it must indeed be so.

Ramsey told The Associated Press that the ability to see the identities of people with handgun carry permits strengthens arguments that gun enthusiasts are worthy of carrying loaded firearms in public. “Having the handgun carry records open actually helps the cause of the Second Amendment,” he said in an interview last week. “Because people can go look at those and realize that they truly are law-abiding citizens. I encourage people like the press to look through these to figure out whether there’s something we’re missing. When you don’t shine light on something, that’s when problems are caused.”

The NRA, as expected, sees it differently. It doesn't want the press snooping around to see who has a permit. “Members of the media have no business possessing personal information of Tennesseans with handgun carry permits,” NRA spokeswoman Stephanie Samford said in an email to the AP. That's an argument many have made about virtually every public record that exists.

In all of the discussion these days about gun rights and gun control and what should or shouldn't be banned and what the real intent of each side seems to be, it would be easy for almost any bill related to gun rights to make it through certain legislatures. Label it the right way and get the right lawmakers and organizations behind it, and passage appears certain.

But hold on. Not every bill NRA — or for that matter any special-interest group — wants is worthy of passage. Each should be examined on its own merit and its likely implications, regardless of who wants it passed.

NRA has enormous influence in the Tennessee Legislature, but virtually unchecked power is never a good idea. It could lead to unjustified laws. Closing yet another public record simply because you think you have the power to do so, and don't appear concerned about the implications, is unwise.

Should newspapers be publishing the names and addresses of handgun permit holders, as one New York paper did? That is a subject worthy of debate and discussion. It is not, however, a reason to close off the records to everyone in Tennessee. Sunshine never hurt any law-abiding citizen.

Let's hope Speaker Ramsey's position is adopted by enough legislators to stop this effort to seal public records. Any harm that could come from keeping the information public is more than offset by the irreparable damage that could result when we shut the door on yet another public record.