We were disappointed last week to see Tennessee lawmakers deliver a severe blow to this state’s open records law. On Wednesday, the Senate voted to block citizens of this state from being able to see who has been issued a permit to carry a handgun.
Sponsors of the bill said the measure is aimed at preventing newspapers and other media organizations from publishing the home addresses of handgun permit holders.
The legislation, however, goes much further than that. It restricts all Tennesseans from accessing this information.
For more than 15 years now, these records have been open to inspection by the people of this state. We shudder to think what other public records state lawmakers might next deem to be none of the business of the people of Tennessee. Will court records, police reports and deed transfers be the next public documents to be withheld from Tennesseans?
The measure would still allow newspapers and others to check the records on an individual basis when someone is charged with a felony or other crime that would make them ineligible to have a carry permit. The one exception is misdemeanor charges, like drunken driving, which would not apply until after a conviction has led to the suspension of a permit.
We know that inspections of these records by citizens and the news media have uncovered serious problems with the permit process. That’s why it is important that public documents such as these remain open records. Citizens have a right to know if there are any special privileges being granted to their neighbors.
Again, we are disappointed to see state lawmakers go down this slippery slope of deciding which long-standing public documents should be closed to the people.