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Guns-in-Restaurants Do-Over Advances

Current law was struck down last year by a judge who declared it unconstitutionally vague. The legislation’s sponsor hopes a rewrite will render the appeal moot.

A bill to rewrite the law that allows gun permit holders to carry their weapons in bars and restaurants passed a House subcommittee Wednesday and is now headed for consideration by the Judiciary Committee.

Under the law passed last year by the General Assembly, permit holders are allowed to bring a gun into certain establishments that serve alcohol, so long as the business owner has not posted a sign banning firearms from the premises.

The current law was struck down last year by a Davidson County judge who declared it unconstitutionally vague.

While that decision is being challenged, bill sponsor Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, hopes rewriting the law now will render the appeal moot.

“This changes what has to be posted” by business owners who wish to legally prohibit people from carrying weapons on their property, he said. “(The law) was very vague and unclear earlier.”

This new bill, he said, “makes it uniform.”

Dan Haskell, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Hospitality Association, was the only person who spoke against the measure during the committee hearing.

“Last year, you passed a bill to allow carrying handguns in places where food was served in context with alcoholic beverages,” he said. “This bill permits you to carry your handgun any place where beer or alcohol is served for consumption in the premises – every bar, every roadhouse, every beer joint in the state. This is a lot larger bill.”

“In the hospitality business, the last thing we want to do is put a sign on the doors about guns,” he continued. “It doesn’t seem very hospitable to us. In large, complicated facilities like an Opryland Hotel or in a convention center, you’ve got hundreds of entrances and exits, all of which would have to have this sign posted on them.”

Haskell also said the bill “can be read to say those who have liquor licenses are no longer permitted to post.”

Todd downplayed Haskell’s concerns. “This bill is very clear — clear on what the judge ruled,” he said.

And opponents of the law are “not going to be happy with any bill — no matter what it says,” he added.

Other committee members voiced agreement with Todd, who said those given legal protection to carry weapons under his bill “are responsible gun owners.”

“I have yet to talk to an officer on the street who is not supportive of this legislation,” said Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, who is a retired sheriff. “I have never in 20 years had a problem with a gun permit holder.”

Added Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, “The honest citizens of Tennessee should not be rendered defenseless.”

Currently, someone who violates the law is guilty of a misdemeanor. Upon conviction, a person’s license to carry a gun can be revoked.

Todd also agreed to a request by the subcommittee’s chairman, Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, to consider increasing the penalties for violating the law in the future.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ben West, D-Hermitage announced that he would not pursue passage of a bill to grant permit holders permission to carry a firearm in public parks and other public recreational facilities, nor will he continue pushing a bill this session that would allow a permit holder to carry their weapon on school grounds as long as it remained the permit holder’s vehicle and is not handled.

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