If the “Merchants of Death” trifecta of alcohol, gun and tobacco lobbyists in the 2006 film Thank You For Smoking was meant to be a humorous hyperbole, Tennessee is not laughing.
On April 6, the Tennessee House passed a bill allowing permit-holding handgun owners to carry their weapons into restaurants that serve alcohol. After years of rejection in House panels, the bill managed to pick up a 70-26 approval. It should reach the Senate this week, and it is expected to pass rather quickly with somewhere between 28 and 30 votes, says John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, who has been pushing for its passage since 1996.
The bill includes provisions for restaurant owners to ban guns from their own establishments, as well as a restriction on carrying guns between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. It contains a no-consumption clause, meaning that permit holders carrying guns will not be served alcoholic beverages. Tennessee already prohibits the possession of a firearm when under the influence.
Despite the initial shock reaction provoked by the bill, Harris points out that 30-something states already have similar laws on the books to allow permit holders to carry their firearms into restaurants – and some of them don’t even have the no-consumption clause. None of them, he says, have had problems.
But even if there were problems, Harris continues, the law itself wouldn’t be able to stop them. “Clearly the people who come into these restaurants with the intent to harm are not going to leave their guns at the door just because you have a sign up,” says Harris.
The House passage of the bill has shaken and stirred more than one Memphis resident. Representative G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, filed several amendments, including a requirement for armed security guards and a gun ban in restaurants in Sunday, but he was ultimately defeated in his attempts to curb the bill. Representaive Larry Miller, also from Memphis, was also disappointed when his amendment to require six random police checks per year of restaurants to enforce the ban between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. was shot down 71 to 24. Others across the state are concerned about the dangers of proximity: guns and alcohol don’t mix, they say.
But Harris insists that these objections are just “speculation” and that the bill is just an attempt to clarify past Tennessee statutes on alcohol and permit-holding.
“If you’re a police officer and you go into a restaurant that serves beverages, you’re also violating current Tennessee law,” he says. “But very few people think that a uniformed officer sitting in a restaurant poses a problem.”
While police officers who want to unwind after work may not be the problem, the opposition has pointed to a number of recent gun-related deaths in the area. This Tennessee cocktail doesn’t sit well with them, and the state will have to wait and see whether or not these gun-and-gin martinis are too sour. But, if the approval of the House is any indication, it looks like the Senate will be ordering one up very soon.