MEMPHIS (AP) — A newspaper review of public records has found dozens of handgun permit recipients in Shelby County with histories of arrests or convictions for robbery, assault and other crimes.
The review by The Commercial Appeal of Memphis comes amid a statewide debate over public access to Tennessee handgun permit records, and the newspaper has stirred those discussions by posting a database of license holders on its Web site.
The state Legislature is considering a call to close the handgun records, with proponents arguing that open access violates the privacy of permit holders.
The database posted by The Commercial Appeal gives burglars “a lighted pathway to the homes of gun owners,” said Chris Cox, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.
But open records advocates disagree.
“There needs to be public scrutiny over the permitting system … by the media and others to ensure the system is working,” said Brian Malte, state legislative director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
More than 32,000 Shelby County residents have handgun permits, and statewide, there are more than 220,000 license holders.
The Commercial Appeal checked on 154 permit recipients, 28 of whom had their licenses revoked last year and 126 who appeared to have outstanding arrest warrants as of February.
The newspaper said at least 70 permit recipients had records of arrests or convictions on criminal charges before getting their handgun licenses.
Kiandre Sims was licensed to carry a handgun in 2005, the newspaper said, when he kicked in a door of an ex-girlfriend’s residence and sexually assaulted her. In 2007, he pleaded guilty to assault and attempted rape in that attack.
The state had renewed Sims’ gun permit in 2004 despite two prior arrests and a 2001 protective order involving another woman. That order had expired when Sims renewed the license, but another was issued in 2005 and was overlooked by the state.
His gun permit finally was revoked last year.
Bernard Avery had been arrested 25 times – including 17 times as a juvenile – before getting a handgun permit in 2006. Charges for those arrests included assault, burglary and robbery.
Within weeks of getting the permit, Avery acknowledged involvement in a murder and was charged with a string of robberies. A murder charge against him was dismissed on a determination that he was mentally incompetent to stand trial.
His gun permit was revoked this month after The Commercial Appeal began asking about him.
Reginald Miller was arrested 11 times before getting a gun permit in 2006. His record includes a felony drug charge bargained down to a misdemeanor and three separate assault allegations from women who later declined to testify against him.
He pleaded guilty to a drug charge last year and is now wanted for probation violations. His handgun license was revoked this month following an inquiry from the Memphis newspaper.
Last year, WTVF-TV in Nashville reported that the state had lost access to the FBI national criminal database and was improperly renewing handgun permits for convicted felons. The Tennessean reported four months later that the state was slow to revoke the permits mistakenly issued to felons.
Handgun permits are issued by the state Department of Safety, which has regained its access to the FBI records. State law says the permits are for law-abiding, mentally healthy citizens who are at least 21 years old. Criminal background checks on applicants are required when permits are issued and renewed. The licenses are valid for four years.
Spokesman Mike Browning said Tennessee courts are supposed to notify the Department of Safety if a permit holder is arrested on a felony charge, accused of domestic violence or becomes the subject of a protective order.
The permit holder’s license should be suspended following an arrest, Browning said, and revoked following a conviction.