Ramsey Wants New Guns-in-Restaurants Legislation

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said last week that he supports moving legislation this session to clarify a Tennessee gun law that was struck down by a Nashville judge last fall.

Both Ramsey, R-Blountville, and last year’s guns-in-restaurants chief bill-sponsor — Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson — want to alter the existing law to fix any ambiguities that led to the judge’s ruling, rather than waiting for the case to run its course through appeals courts.

“If we wait on the courts, it could be months, if not a year, so I think we need to move forward with it,” Ramsey said Friday. He added that he also supports “stiffening penalties for people who carry guns into places where they are not allowed.”

Enacted last year over the veto of Gov. Phil Bredesen, Tennessee’s guns-in-restaurants law allows firearm-carry permit-holders to posses their weapons in alcohol-serving eating establishments that meet certain caveats. In particular, the law declares that for customers to legally pack heat in an establishment, it must derive more than 50 percent of its income from food, rather than the sale of booze.

However, Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman declared in November that the law is “fraught with ambiguity.” Calculating an establishment’s food-versus-liquor sales breakdown isn’t something citizens could reasonably be expected to determine for themselves, said Bonnyman.

Before the 2009 General Assembly made it legally permissible for non-drinking, permit-holding patrons to carry firearms, state law unequivocally banned pistol packing anywhere beer and cocktails were served.

Ramsey’s inclination to move a rewritten guns-in-restaurants bill contrasts with that stated recently by House Speaker Kent Williams, R-Elizabethton.

Williams was reported last week to have indicated his preference to “see (the case) just go through the courts first,” and that he didn’t want to “spend a lot of time in session dealing with an issue and then it turns out we didn’t need to do it.”

Both Ramsey and Jackson dismissed claims by Nashville and Memphis tourism promoters that the guns-in-restaurant law is scaring off would-be visitors to Tennessee.

“Nobody has seen any ill effects from this,” Jackson said. “Just like nobody saw any ill effects in Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia or any of the 38 other states that allow gun-owners with permits to carry where alcohol is served. Florida has had their law in effect for more than 20 years, and I don’t think it has done great harm to their tourism.”

Added Ramsey, “I’d like to see those numbers to show that it’s hurting tourism. I think (the claims) are mostly just hypothetical.”