Tennessee handgun carry permit holders will be allowed to take their guns into establishments serving alcohol Tuesday, although a variety of exceptions makes it unclear where exactly concealed weapons will be allowed.
Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman rejected on Monday on procedural grounds a claim for a temporary injunction, which would have prevented the law from taking effect. However, Bonnyman recommended the legal challenge brought forward by three restaurant owners, nine Nashville servers and four permit holders go forward in 90 days.
Bonnyman said the three restaurateurs and nine servers would not face immediate harm because the harm could be avoided by the posting of signs prohibiting guns on the premises. The new state law allows permit holders to carry guns into restaurants, but only if they are not consuming alcohol. Establishments may choose to ban guns on their own, and it is a Class A misdemeanor for disregarding an owner’s own handgun ban.
During Monday’s hearing, lead counsel for the plaintiffs David Randolph Smith argued that the new law was so vague that permit holders wouldn’t know where they could and couldn’t carry. The new law states guns are allowed only in establishments deriving most of their income from the sale of food.
But the restaurateurs — who owned establishments like Sam’s Sports Bar, Cabana, Midtown Café, Sunset Grill and the Melrose Neighborhood Pub — argued that in certain months most of their income comes from alcohol and beer, while in other months it comes from food sales. Smith said permit holders would have difficulty discerning whether they were breaking the law by taking a gun into such an establishment.
Smith pointed out that Tennessee would become the first state in the country to explicitly allow carry permit holders to take guns into places that serve alcohol.
Bonnyman said the “void for vagueness” argument had “merit,” but said the court could not “leap over rules of civil procedure and declare whether the law can ever be enforced or not.”
Bonnyman suggested the plaintiffs and the defendant, Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper, file a hearing schedule and move the case ahead.
Earlier Monday, some high-profile organizations filed affidavits in support of the legal challenge to the guns-in-bars law. Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas filed an affidavit stating the new law would be difficult for officers to enforce. Serpas’s affidavit stated that guns and alcohol were a dangerous mix.
Also filing affidavits opposing the law were the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, along with the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau.