NASHVILLE, Tenn. Supporters of blocking public access to the names and addresses of Tennesseans with handgun-carry permits appear to have a hard time keeping their hands off the records.
Records obtained and reviewed by the Associated Press show that copies of the state’s database of more than 257,000 handgun-permit holders were recently requested by the state Republican Party and a direct mail contractor that has done extensive work for the GOP’s legislative caucus.
Asked about those requests yesterday, House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada said he opposes using the database for political purposes such as fundraising or get-out-the-vote efforts.
“I know they’re going to use it for campaigns, but there’s people that would use it to break into homes and steal guns,” said Casada of Franklin. “And I just wish we could keep personal information like that private.”
The latest effort to close the records came after The Commercial Appeal newspaper of Memphis posted the full database on its Web site last year. No Republican opposed closing the records to the public last session. The bill which would have closed the records for all uses, including campaign purposes failed to pass by just one vote in June.
State Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney said the party doesn’t take a position on whether the records should be open.
“We are operating under the laws as they are right now, and if they change we’ll operate under those standards,” he said. “We were seeking that information, it’s public information, and we wanted to have it.”
Also among those requesting the database was a woman named Michele Wood, who said she was requesting the records on behalf of the National Rifle Association. A spokesman for the organization said Wood does not work for the NRA, and Wood did not reply in time for this story to messages seeking comment.
The NRA was a vocal critic of The Commercial Appeal’s use of the handgun database, with chief lobbyist Chris W. Cox saying the database would give burglars “a lighted pathway to the homes of gun owners.”
Open-government advocates argue that access to the permit records helps the public monitor whether the state is properly issuing and revoking permits for those not allowed to carry handguns.
The issue will take center stage today at a panel discussion hosted by the First Amendment Center. Panelists will include John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association; Chris Peck, editor of The Commercial Appeal; and David Hudson, First Amendment scholar and a lawyer at the First Amendment Center. Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the Center, will moderate the discussion.
Meanwhile, a June 2 request for the permit records came from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.-based Next Wave Communications Inc., the corporate parent of GOP vendor Majority Strategies.
Majority Strategies has done about $370,000 worth of work for the state GOP’s Tennessee Legislative Campaign Committee since July 2008 and another $245,000 for Republican legislative candidates individually, according to campaign-finance records. Company officials did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Casada said he considers it a “consistency issue” in calling on Majority Strategies to refrain from using the database. But he said there’s a difference between the database being published and using it for campaigning.
“The chances of a burglar getting that information from Majority Strategies is probably zero, but if you just randomly publish it there’s a pretty good chance,” he said.
Others who have requested the database this year include news-media outlets like the Associated Press, gun-show operator Bob Pope and a doctoral student in criminology from Texas.
Republican Rep. Stacey Campfield voted to close the database but then asked for a copy in June. The Knoxville Republican, who is mounting a bid for the state Senate, said he supports keeping the records open for inspection but not for publication.
Campfield said he requested the database on behalf of Greg “Lumpy” Lambert, a Knox County commissioner.
“I’m a politico, I help people get elected,” said Lambert, a gun-rights advocate who once drew a gun on a would-be robber at his used-car lot and also offered a gun voucher with every auto sale. “If a pro-gun candidate is running somewhere, I can use that database to help generate some mail.”
But Lambert said he remains opposed to the database’s general publication.
“What I have a problem with is these liberal papers trying to embarrass folks and intimidate folks by publishing their names,” he said.