Gun Permits Issued to Convicted Felons - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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Gun Permits Issued to Convicted Felons

Safety Commissioner Dave Mitchell Safety Commissioner Dave Mitchell
Gun instructor Buford Tune Gun instructor Buford Tune

Police are supposed to make sure that convicted felons aren't walking around with handguns.

Still, an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation has discovered dozens of convicted felons who may be armed and dangerous.

In fact, our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams discovered, they've got permits from the state that say it's OK.

"Gun permits are not that easy to get," says gun instructor Buford Tune.

And when people get their permits, Tune says it's supposed to be proof that they aren't one of the bad guys.

"It carries a big value to the police officers on the street to know that this is an honest person."

But NewsChannel 5 Investigates did what the state hasn't done.

We took the Department of Safety's database of people with handgun permits and compared it to the Department of Correction's database of convicted felons.

What we discovered surprised state Safety Commissioner Dave Mitchell.

"I did not realize that we were issuing permits to convicted felons until you brought it to our attention -- I did not know that," he tells NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.

Among them: felons like Antonio Dewayne Bedford.

According to court records, Bedford pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon - a Class E felony -- after shooting a man in the chest during an argument.

On his application, Bedford checked that he had not been convicted of a felony.

In fact, the state says Bedford went through the FBI-TBI fingerprint check required for all new applicants. But when it came back, it contained an erroneous report from local courts that the felony had been dropped.

"We depend upon the report that we receive from TBI," Mitchell says.

"And you don't check any other sources of information?" Williams asks.

"We do not," the safety commissioner replies.

Then, there are those who turn to crime after getting their gun permits.

For example, Joseph Christopher McDonald first got his gun permit back in 1998. In 2006, he was convicted of a felony, statutory rape. A year later, he applied for renewal of his permit.

"He did not tell us that he had been convicted of a felony," says Lisa Knight, who supervises the handgun permit office.

So the state gave it to him -- even though he was listed on the state's Sex Offender Registry.

"You don't check the sex offender registry?" Williams asks Knight.

"No, sir, we do not."

Williams asks the commissioner, "You don't check the department of correction's web site?"

"We do not," Mitchell answers.

"You do not even check with local authorities."

"We do not."

So former cop Robert Freeman Walker got by with it, when he applied for renewal of his handgun permit, even though he had just been convicted of felony official oppression and still faced other criminal charges.

"If they checked that they have not been a convicted felon, then that is the record that we were using," Mitchell says.

Tune notes that if a felon wants a gun and are asked "are you a convicted felon? Well, if you are, you're not going to check yes. You're going to check no."

Williams asks Mitchell, "So you were just taking the person's word for it?

"In essence," the safety commissioner says, "that's been the way that we have been doing business. That's correct."

In fact, once you get a handgun permit, state law doesn't actually require that you ever undergo another background check to get your permits renewed.

Instead, judges are supposed to notify the state if a gun owner is arrested or convicted of a felony.

"I'm not confident that all the judges are doing this," Mitchell says.

And NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered plenty of people who still had handgun permits despite being convicted of serious felonies.

One man had been convicted of attempted murder after he tried to shoot his ex-girlfriend and her new companion.

Another was convicted of reckless aggravated assault after shooting a man twice.

A third had a felony record for rape of a child.

With no background checks, even ones like we were able to do, there's nothing to stop those felons from getting their permits renewed.

"If we could do this why couldn't your people do this?" Williams asks Mitchell.

"After you brought it to my attention," he answers, "I'm assuming that we could -- but we did not do it in the past."

Tune says that "the people that are carrying handguns ... don't want to lose that right because there's some idiot out here that's got a felony record that's carrying a gun."

And that's why the safety commissioner says his department has got to find a way to better way to ensure the safety of the public.

"Your investigation has pointed to a situation where we definitely need to take a hard look at it and see what we can do to fill those gaps."

The state says it had done background checks on all renewals until late 2006.

That's when the FBI cut off access to its National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Now, as a result of our investigation, the state says it's worked out those problems and will resume doing those checks -- perhaps as early as this week.

As for those felons who lied on their applications, the handgun permit law says those people can be prosecuted for perjury.

But the state says it doesn't know of a single case where that has ever happened.

Back to NewsChannel 5 Investigates

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