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Tennessee gun permits up 23% last year; increase 16% in Shelby County

The number of Tennesseans licensed by the state to go armed increased by nearly 51,000 people last year — to 268,711, according to new state statistics.

That’s an increase of 23 percent over the 218,004 Tennesseans with handgun-carry permits on Jan. 1, 2009. By comparison, the 2008 increase was 14 percent, according to Tennessee Department of Safety figures.

In Shelby County, the number of residents with handgun-carry permits jumped by 5,205 in 2009 to 38,130, up 16 percent. The Shelby County increase in 2008 was 15 percent.

The new data indicate that about 6 percent of Tennessee residents old enough to have a handgun-carry permit — those ages 21 and up — had one at the start of this year.

The permit rate is a little lower among people with Memphis addresses. The 20,716 people in the city with gun permits account for about two out of every 50 Memphis residents 21 and up, or nearly 5 percent.

Knoxville has the highest concentration of permit-holders among the state’s largest cities: More than 11 percent of its residents 21 and up are licensed to carry firearms.

The new statistics come as the state legislature gears for another round of bills to expand the places where permittees may legally carry their guns, make it easier to get permits and close off public access to names of permit holders.

Lawmakers will try to resurrect the law they approved last year allowing permit holders to take guns into restaurants and other places serving alcohol, which a court struck down in November as unconstitutionally vague.

There also are bills to allow permit holders to take their guns onto school and employee parking lots, if they are left in their cars. A House subcommittee is set to review several of the bills March 10.

The dramatic increase last year likely reflects a combination of factors, including wide publicity about the permit program and about legislative action in 2009 that allowed guns in bars and parks, said Richard Janikowski, associate professor of the University of Memphis Center for Community Criminology & Research.

The publicity barrage began a year ago when a dispute between two Memphis men over how close their SUVs were parked outside a Cordova restaurant led to the shooting death of one of them in front of his children.

“There’s been so much publicity about the legislative changes, about being able to carry guns in bars and parks. I think often that kind of publicity generates a reaction — like, ‘Well if that’s what the legislature says, maybe I should go get a permit,’” Janikowski said Friday.

The 24-hour news cycle, often filled with crime stories, also has affected perceptions of the problem, he said.

“People begin to feel they are constantly surrounded by crime no matter where they live. So I think we have this self-reinforcing cycle even though crime rates have been going down,” Janikowski said.

Violent crime in Memphis declined 9 percent from 2008 to 2009 and by about 15 percent since 2006, he said.-[source]

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