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TBI Looks to Lift $3M from Gun-Carry Permit Revenues for Fingerprint Database

Tennessee’s Bureau of Investigation hopes to pull $3 million from handgun permit fees to upgrade the state’s fingerprinting database next year and says otherwise more crimes will go unsolved.

Although that practice is legal under state code, gun rights advocates say it’s unfair that a portion of their user fees fund activities that have little to do with law-abiding gun owners.

“The objective of the government to invest money in fingerprinting is not an activity that can be identified as servicing the permit holder process,” said John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association.

“Our view is they shouldn’t be charging essentially the permit holder for the cost, or even a substantial portion of the cost, for the technology and personnel when it’s a part of law enforcement that needs to be funded by the state’s general budget,” Harris said.

Every time someone buys a $115 Tennessee handgun permit, $15 is channeled to the TBI and held in a fund “for the sole purpose of updating and maintaining its fingerprint criminal history database,” according to state law. TBI has proposed taking a total of $3 million from that fund in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Storage for the state’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System database is now reaching capacity, TBI Director Mark Gwyn told Gov. Bill Haslam during a budget hearing Nov. 4 on Capitol Hill.

“If we don’t have this upgrade, we just will not be able to put any more latent fingerprints in the system, and obviously, if that there were to happen, there would be crimes that would not be solved,” Gwyn said at the hearing.

The agency is proposing a $65.9 million budget, including federal funds, which is 2.6 percent lower than the current year’s.

When asked to reduce the state share of the department’s spending by 5 percent, or $1.7 million, Gwyn said he would eliminate 18 filled agent positions and do away with another six vacant jobs that have been left empty for more than a year. The department now has almost 500 people on staff, including 328 gun- and badge-carrying agents.

In the last year, the department handled 1,818 active cases, contributed to 181 convictions and 247 arrests, according to TBI.

The governor is meeting throughout the month with agency directors to talk about their budget needs and determine where he may be able to cut as much as $400 million in next year’s spending plan to make up for expenses outpacing the state’s revenue growth. The governor is expected to propose a roughly $31 billion budget early next year.

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