More DeKalb Countians are choosing to obtain a valid handgun carry permit.
According to the latest available records kept by the state, DeKalb County had a total of 1,462 handgun permit holders as of January 1st, 2011. That's up 141 from 1,321 on January 1st, 2010 and an increase of 422 since January 1st, 2009.
Smithville Police Chief Randy Caplinger, who is also an authorized state handgun permit class instructor, said a lot of people are obtaining a handgun carry permit to make them feel more safe and secure. "A lot of people are concerned about protecting themselves now, especially in their homes. A lot of people are also concerned about taking the training, learning how to operate a weapon and to be comfortable with it. We get a lot of people who want to take the class just for the safety aspect of it."
Caplinger said he has been teaching the class since his days with the Tennessee Highway Patrol. "I teach the state authorized handgun permit class for anyone interested in obtaining a Tennessee handgun permit. I started teaching these classes in 1996 and continued to teach during my career with the Tennessee Department of Safety. After I retired with the THP, I continued teaching the classes."
Handgun carry applicants must be at least 21 years of age and meet other conditions, according to Caplinger. "You cannot be a convicted felon. If you're being treated for any type of drug or alcohol abuse; if you're under any type of restraining order or other court order; or if you've been convicted of any type of spousal abuse, stalking, or sex crime it can and will keep you from getting a handgun carry permit. If you've had one DUI within five years or two DUI's within ten years it can keep you from getting your handgun permit. If you're being treated for any type of mental disorder or if you're under any type of mental treatment you're not allowed to apply for a handgun carry permit," said Caplinger.
In order to obtain a valid handgun carry permit, Caplinger said you must complete a training course. "The first thing you have to do if you're interested in obtaining a handgun carry permit in Tennessee is to attend one of the authorized classes at a school that is certified with the State of Tennessee Department of Safety handgun permit course. You can take up to an eight hour class, depending upon the instructor. Usually it's a one day class which starts with classroom training following a certain curriculum that the state requires to make everyone aware of where they can and can't carry the gun. The course then goes into the safety part on how to operate and carry the weapon. The class covers several different aspects. After the classroom part is completed, you go to the firing range and fire the weapon. After completing the course, you must apply for the Tennessee handgun permit. Just because you attend the school does not automatically grant you a permit. It only gives you the right to apply for the permit because you have had the mandatory training by taking the course," said Caplinger
"Once you successfully complete the course, you're given a certificate that you are to carry to any full service drivers license station in Tennessee. The ones closest to Smithville are in Cookeville, McMinnville, Lebanon, and Murfreesboro. You must present your handgun certificate, your certified birth certificate or valid passport and $115 before being able to make application for your permit. If your birth certificate is not certified, they will turn you down. You must present a certified birth certificate," said Caplinger.
If you don't have a copy of your birth certificate, Caplinger said you can obtain a copy at the health department. "You can go to your local health department and have a copy of your birth certificate printed. It will be certified. I think the charge is either seven or eight dollars. You can go on-line to the department of health in Nashville and order a copy of your birth certificate on-line with a credit or debit card or you can call the department of health by phone and use a debit or credit card and obtain it that way. It will be sent to you in the mail," said Caplinger.
Once you obtain your handgun carry permit, Caplinger said its valid for four years before renewal. "Some people get confused because their drivers license are valid for five years. They (drivers licenses) expire on your birthday. Your gun permit expires on the date it was issued, which might not necessarily be close to your birthday. You will receive a notice in the mail to renew your gun permit. You're never retested again. The only thing is you'll have to go through a background check. The Department of Safety issues the background check to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation."
"Your permit renewal application is sent out four months prior to it expiring, "said Caplinger. "Once the Department of Safety sends out that notice, they enter your name with the TBI and the TBI will start a background check Once the background check is completed, if there's nothing on your record to hold it up or any questions that arise, you will receive your notice in the mail. You can then send it into the state because it's already been approved. That's something new that the Department of Safety has started and its working. Two years ago if you renewed your handgun carry license, you were lucky to get it back within ninety days. Most people had to get an extension. Today, if a renewal goes through with no problems and everything is approved, you're probably going to get it back within twenty days even though the Department of Safety tells us to tell everyone it will be ninety days," said Caplinger.
Should you let your handgun carry permit expire, Caplinger said you have a six month grace period before having to retake the course. "If you wait beyond that six month grace period you have to go through that complete course and everything again. Once you get your permit for the first time and you keep it valid, your permit is good for four years. At the end of four years you never have to pay the $115 again but you have to pay $50 for the renewal fee every four years for the remainder of the time you keep the gun permit but you never have to go through the class again," said Caplinger.
While Tennessee does not have a concealed carry law, Caplinger said he urges his students to be cautious about displaying their handguns. "By law, if you obtain your handgun carry permit you are legally allowed to carry your weapon in public if you wish. Some do. Some don't. Instructors have different opinions. I do not recommend that anyone carry their handgun out in the open but it's still up to the individual who has the permit."
Caplinger adds that there are several places where a handgun is prohibited. "A good way to remember is that if you're in or on any city, county, state, or federal property, building, school, or at any type of judicial proceeding, carrying a handgun is off limits. You are also prohibited from carrying a handgun into a restaurant that sells alcohol or a bar if you're going to be drinking."
Many people opposed to handgun carry laws have expressed concerns about more people in public with weapons, but Caplinger said it hasn't been a problem here. "We don't have a problem with most people (with handgun carry permits) because they've had the training. They understand what they can and can't do. Most people understand that if a problem arises and they misuse that permit or that weapon, they can lose that permit just as easy as they got it. These people are good, everyday citizens that can pass the background checks. We've really had no problem with them. It was a concern when it started in 1996 (when handgun permits were first issued) but law enforcement understands that the people with these permits have had the training and know what should happen and what can happen, and how to handle a gun. It hasn't been a problem," concluded Caplinger.