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VOL. 124 | NO. 64 | Thursday, April 2, 2009

Lawmakers Advance Guns in Parks, But Not on Campus

ERIK SCHELZIG | Associated Press Writer

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee lawmakers on Wednesday moved ahead on proposals to allow handguns to be carried in state and local parks, but stopped short of allowing faculty and staff to pack heat at public colleges and universities.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also advanced an effort to close public access to the names of Tennesseans who hold state-issued permits to carry loaded handguns, sending the measure to a full floor vote. A House Budget Subcommittee decided to delay a vote on the companion bill for three weeks to seek a compromise.

The same House panel decided on a 10-5 vote that the state wouldn't need to change signs barring firearms if handgun permit holders are allowed to carry their weapons in state parks.

Rep. Frank Nicely, a Strawberry Plains Republican and the proposal's main sponsor, said existing signs would still apply to most park visitors. By making no change, the state would avoid incurring any new costs in a tough budget year.

Rep. Johnny Shaw, a Bolivar Democrat, said the current signs wouldn't inform visitors of the new rules.

"You say it's OK to have a gun in a park with a sign saying 'no guns allowed?'" Shaw said. "That's deceptive."

The panel also advanced a bill sponsored by Rep. Harry Tindell, a Knoxville Democrat, to give local governments control over whether to allow handguns in their parks.

Rep. Stacey Campfield's proposal to allow handguns to be carried on the campuses of state colleges failed in the House Criminal Practice Subcommittee.

College campuses are currently covered under a general ban on guns on school grounds. Only law enforcement officers or members of the military can come onto a campus armed.

The panel also rejected another Campfield proposal to allow retired members of the military and ROTC cadets to carry handguns on campus.

The effort to close access to the state's handgun database was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 6-2 vote. Democratic Sens. Jim Kyle and Beverly Marrero, both of Memphis, were the only members of the panel to argue the records should remain open to public review.

"The only way you know your government is working is for your government to be as transparent as possible," Kyle said. "And we are cloaking our government in less transparency."

Marrero cited three recent fatal shootings in her area by handgun permit holders as a reason for voting against the bill.

"If we don't have record of who has permits, then we don't know if there are abuses," she said. "It's not all just people buying guns on the street, some of these people actually have handgun carry permits."

The Safety Department last year revoked 276 handgun permits for felony convictions, and suspended another 355 because of pending criminal charges or protection orders stemming from domestic violence cases. At the beginning of this year, there were 218,004 handgun permits in the state.

The latest debate over public access to permit records was spurred after The Commercial Appeal newspaper of Memphis posted the full database on its Web site.

"Just to put our names in the paper along with our neighbors really serves no purpose," said Sen. Paul Stanley, R-Germantown and a permit holder.

The committee also unanimously voted to send a separate Norris proposal to end a thumbprint requirement for gun purchases to the Senate floor.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said the thumbprints have not been used in background checks since the law went into effect in 1998. The one time the agency asked for a print for in an investigation, it was smudged and unusable. The companion bill has already passed in the House.


Read HB0716 (guns in parks), HB0960 (local parks), SB1126 (handgun records), SB0554 (gun thumbprints), HB0798 and HB0823 (guns on campus) at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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