We were pleased to hear Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey say recently that he does not think it’s a good idea to close public records about who has been issued a permit to carry a gun in Tennessee. The Blountville Republican told the Associated Press he believes an effort backed by the National Rifle Association to seal those records defeats a major argument of those pushing for greater gun rights in this state.
“Having the handgun carry records open actually helps the cause of the Second Amendment,” he said. “Because people can go look at those and realize that they truly are law-abiding citizens.”
The lieutenant governor is right. Closing these records would make it impossible for the public to find out whether gun carry permits are issued properly and if permit holders are the upstanding citizens that the NRA says they are.
Nonetheless, we are concerned that Ramsey is willing to restrict how citizens get to those vital public records. Ramsey said “it serves no purpose” for news organizations to publish names or post searchable Internet databases of handgun carry permit holders. We believe it does serve a purpose for citizens who want a convenient and reliable means to access records that Ramsey himself says they are entitled to see.
Tennessee’s open records law was put into place for a reason — to allow the public to judge for itself how well its government works. Public records like gun carry permits are important to help shine light on the permitting process itself and allow Tennesseans to decide if all the rules are being followed. Closing these records in the name of privacy only breeds secrecy, and with secrecy comes suspicion.
Good government simply can’t operate in secrecy.