State Rep. Dennis Powers and State Sen. Stacey Campfield are co-sponsoring HB0388/SB0076, which, supposedly, "limits to 15 the number of handgun carry permit records that can be reproduced in a single day; authorizes receipt of compilation of handgun carry permit records if such compilation will not be published." In other words, you can only get 15 whole records a day — including the original application or renewal and all other relevant documents — but the bill would let you get a list of the names and addresses of permit holders as long as you agreed not to publish them or provide them to someone who might publish them.
Obviously, this is because politicians don't want the names and addresses of permit holders made available in the local media. But there's a pesky undefined word in the bill that I bet lawyers will love, and it's there in the summary, too — "published."
In this day and age, what does "published" mean? Say I belong to the Tennessee Federation of Republican Women, and I want a list of Tennessee handgun permit holders so that I can mail them about how pro-gun Republicans are. Under this bill, that would be okay.
But say I decide this is too big a task for me alone. Could I print out the list, make copies of it, and send it to all the local chapters so that the area vice presidents could help me with my mailing project? Or is that "publishing" the list? After all, we'd all agree a newsletter sent from one woman in the TFRW to all the area vice presidents was published, right? It's just got an incredibly small, closed circulation.
Or what if I'm with the NRA and I want those names and addresses for my internal database, viewable and usable by all the marketers and publicity people in the NRA. So instead of just saving the file on my computer and running a mail merge from there, I put it on a shared server where everyone in the organization can have access to it. Is this not published? Again, yes, to a small, closed group, but it's still published, like a blog post that only certain people have access to — or heck, a newspaper behind a paywall.
Or, for instance, say I'm from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus. If I make copies of the list to share with my members, isn't that publishing? Published things can be private. They can be limited to a small closed group. I mean, that's the whole reason the phrase "internal publication" exists.
Really, in this electronic age, isn't publishing just making a copy and sharing it? (Which does make one wonder if the law would put the person who makes copies of the handgun carry permit list for people in constant violation of said law? That would be funny.)
You may ask if the definition of "published" is really that big a deal. After all, it's not like a lot of people Republicans in our state legislature want to keep happy want those names and thus might accidentally run afowl of the law, right? Wrong. Interestingly enough, Gawker pulled the records of everyone who's requested the full list of handgun carry permits. The list for Tennessee is as follows:
Shawn Harmon, E-Merges.com (data brokerage firm)
Jenny Farmer, Cyragon (political targeting firm)
Data Marketing Network (marketing firm)
Stephen Lindsey, Thomas Lindsey Group (political consulting firm)
Jordan Young, Tennessee Senate Group Republican Caucus
Don Charest, Self Defense Solutions (NRA-certified firearm training academy)
Walter Muskop, Tennessean (journalist)
Grant Smith, Commercial Appeal (journalist)
Judy Walton, Chattanooga Times Free Press (journalist)
Phil Williams, WTVF-TV (journalist)
Kim Barker, ProPublica (journalist)
Aaron Nobel, Heavy Inc. (journalist)
Lance Williams from The Tennessean indicated to me that this is him. And I suspect that Beverly Knight is the same Beverly Knight who is the Area 5A Vice President of the TFRW. That makes it an even split between journalists and people who want handgun permit owners' addresses to market to them.
It's understandable — though cowardly — why Republicans would want to keep the list out of the hands of half those folks without ruffling the feathers of the other half. But using "publish" as your sorting word? People who might publish the list can't have the list. People who won't can? It doesn't work. Without a definition of what "publish" means, any non-journalistic group might be breaking the law without intending to. Or a news organization might still find a way to make the list widely available without technically publishing it.
I predict one of two things. One: The law won't pass as it stands now. "When Tennessee first tried to make gun records private in 2009," Gawker says, "the effort died 'amid fears that political groups and gun advocates would no longer be able to access addresses of handgun carry permit holders to add to their mailing list soliciting contributions,' according to the Associated Press"
Two: It will pass — and some media outlet will sue and argue that these political marketing groups are, in fact, publishing the list in a manner not that dissimilar to what a media outlet might want to do. And since you can't have one law for the media and one law for everyone else, the law will be declared unconstitutional.