A wide open guns-in-bars bill cleared the state House Wednesday and went to the governor’s desk, allowing Tennessee’s 270,000 handgun-carry permit holders to take their weapons into honky-tonks, nightclubs and any place else that serves booze.
The House voted 66-31 for the bill after a contentious debate in which even one longtime National Rifle Association supporter complained, “I’m sick and tired of talking about guns.”
Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, said he’s such a big NRA supporter that he bought lifetime memberships for his children. But in a remarkable speech, he accused legislators of knuckling under to the NRA’s demands for fear of losing the powerful group’s support in November’s elections.
“Essentially, the NRA is saying to us if you don’t support carrying guns in bars we will not endorse you but will, in fact, oppose you,” McCord said. “This line of reasoning is just bordering on lunacy.”
McCord, who announced early in the session that he won’t run for re-election, conceded he might have stayed quiet if he hoped to return to the House next year.
“I’m not running again,” he said. “You can tell because I’m sitting here criticizing the NRA. … [But] it makes me wonder, what line will we not cross for the NRA? I’m just curious. At what point do we say this is too much?”
But Rep. Henry Fincher, D-Cookeville, said he favored the bill not because of NRA pressure but because he believes the state’s licensed gun carriers can be trusted to go armed into bars and will actually make them safer places.
“We have made a choice in this state to trust our handgun-carry permit holders,” Fincher said. “When we draw imaginary lines in the ground and say we trust you here but we don’t trust you there, we are doing nothing but creating a pleasing fiction. Gun-free zones are a pleasing fiction, Mr. Speaker. Columbine High School was a gun-free zone.
Killers don’t care about these imaginary lines.”
Over Gov. Phil Bredesen’s veto, the legislature passed a guns-in-bars law last year. It allowed permit holders to go armed into restaurants with liquor-by-the-drink licenses whose principle business is food service. That was an attempt to allow guns in restaurants that happen to serve alcohol, but keep them out of beer joints.
Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman struck down that law as unconstitutionally vague because permit holders had no way of knowing whether the business derived more of its revenue from food or alcohol sales.
Lawmakers fixed that problem with this new legislation, which makes no distinction between drinking establishments. Any business still can ban guns by posting signs. In addition, handgun permit holders are prohibited from drinking while they are armed.
The House passed the Senate version of the bill, tabling an amendment to allow permit holders to take guns into any place with a liquor or beer license if the owner doesn't post signs banning them. The Senate passed the bill last week.