Owners' permit records will stay open to public
Naifeh's actions help reverse earlier passage
By THEO EMERY
A proposal to make secret the names and addresses of Tennesseans who have handgun carry permits died in a whirlwind of political intrigue Wednesday, aided by state House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh.
First, freshman House member Henry Fincher engineered a vote on the bill while two of its opponents — two of his more senior colleagues — were out of the room.
In turn, Naifeh reversed the vote with the help of the House's newest member, Karen Camper, who had been sworn in only about an hour earlier.
The end result: The names and addresses of permit holders will remain public for now.
"When the majority party finds it doesn't have the votes it needs to accomplish what it wants to accomplish — in this case, trampling on the Second Amendment rights of Tennesseans — it massages the rules and finds a way to get it accomplished," House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower said.
The House Criminal Practice Subcommittee had a calendar of nearly 90 bills to consider Wednesday.
The group first approved the bill in question — voting to close the gun permit records — when two members of the committee who opposed the idea, Reps. Rob Briley and Janis Sontany, were out of the room.
When the two Nashville Democrats were gone, Fincher, a Cookeville Democrat, called the bill up for a vote, and it was quickly approved without debate.
A short time later, Naifeh arrived at the subcommittee meeting from the swearing-in ceremony for Camper, a Democrat recently appointed to fill a vacant House seat from Shelby County.
Naifeh added Camper to the subcommittee. The two then joined with the bill's opponents to reverse the earlier vote and banished the legislation until 2012.
The speaker afterward said he had not talked with Camper about the vote beforehand, and that they went to the committee hearing only because she had said she was interested in being on the House Judiciary Committee.
"That's just how it happened," he said.
Mumpower said the voting was not "the proper way that things should have been run."
Naifeh said that he would prefer not to have to cast committee votes as speaker, "but when it's a matter of importance, I do."
Publication spurred bill
The legislation was proposed after The Tennessean posted on its Web site a database listing the names and counties of residence of every handgun permit holder in the state. The Senate version of the bill is scheduled for a floor vote today.
This was not the first time that Naifeh had cast votes to kill gun legislation.
Two weeks ago, he dropped in on the same subcommittee to vote against several other gun-related bills. House rules allow him to make such votes as speaker.
And a year ago, Naifeh also brought a newly sworn-in House member to the House Agricultural Committee, where she cast a key vote that helped pass a cigarette tax increase.
Fincher defended his decision to call up the bill when Sontany and Briley were out of the room, saying, "We voted with the members that were in the room, as we have on every bill that we had a quorum with today.
"I'm a strong supporter of gun owner rights, and their confidentiality, and I believe that that is an important value to be upheld by the legislature," he said.
Fincher said he didn't take the reversal of the vote as a reprimand.
"I didn't take it that way. I think they had strong feelings on the bill, as did I. They had the votes."
Frank Gibson, director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said that the gun permit records should be open to scrutiny and that the bill was initially approved in the subcommittee without any discussion or debate.
"There has to be some way for the public and the press to know whether the program is being properly administered and to ensure that permits are not given to people who by law are not supposed to be able to carry them," he said.
The chairman of the full judiciary committee, Rep. Kent Coleman, a Murfreesboro Democrat, said he was taken by surprise when Fincher called the bill up for a vote.
He said he didn't like the idea of closing the gun permit records, but he initially voted in favor of the bill in a parliamentary tactic, so that he could later make a motion to have that vote reconsidered.
Bill to allow handguns in bars dies
By THEO EMERY
A bill that would have allowed gun owners to bring handguns into bars and other establishments serving alcohol died on Wednesday at the urging of House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, the bill's sponsor said.
The so-called "guns in bars" bill had been introduced and defeated numerous times in previous years. It was recently the butt of a segment on the Colbert Report television show, with video footage of Senate sponsor Doug Jackson, a Dickson Democrat, at a gun range shooting at an apple pie, a hot dog and a baseball.
House sponsor Joe McCord, a Maryville Republican, said a pre-hearing discussion Wednesday with Naifeh and fellow committee member Rep. Rob Briley made him "painfully aware" that the legislation could not be approved in its current form.
He told the committee that "responsible" legislation would require legal definitions of bars and nightclubs that don't exist under state law. Further study was needed to hammer out those definitions, he said.
"Over the summer, we are going to have to try to come up with a definition of nightclub or a definition of bar that currently does not exist in codes," he said. "That is the only way I think that we can accomplish the goal."
Naifeh, a Covington Democrat, appeared briefly in the House Criminal Practices Subcommittee on Wednesday, conferred with lawmakers and lawyers for several minutes, and then left.
He didn't vote on the "guns in bars" bill, although he could have. He is allowed to vote under House rules.
He later returned to the same subcommittee meeting Wednesday to reverse another vote on a bill that would have made private information about people who have state-issued handgun carry permits.