“Guns In Bars” Passes In State House, Goes To Governor

A proposal to allow handgun carry permit-holders to take their weapons anywhere that alcoholic drinks are served is now going to the governor.

The Tennessee House of Representatives approved the measure Wednesday night

Under the proposed law, any establishment – restaurant or bar – could post a “no guns allowed” sign. Otherwise permit-holders can legally carry into such a business, although they wouldn’t legally be able to drink.

Cookeville Democrat Henry Fincher summed up the argument of the pro-gun votes.

“When we draw imaginary lines on the ground and say, we trust you here, Handgun Carry Permit Carrier, but we don’t trust you there, Handgun Carry Permit Holder, we are doing nothing but creating a pleasing fiction. Gun-free zones are a fiction, Mr. Speaker. Columbine High School was a gun-free zone.”

Fincher says permit holders go through background checks, a course and a test to show that they know how to use a weapon safely. He is a handgun carry permit instructor.

Republican Representative Joe McCord went to the front of the House to argue for a compromise amendment, designed to let guns be taken into restaurants but not bars. Standing in the well of the House, McCord scored the National Rifle Association.

“But in the infinite wisdom of the NRA and some others, rather than coming up with some definition, and reasonable solutions, their solution was to say, ‘Let’s just make it legal to carry guns wherever alcohol is served. As was stated, bars, beer joints, honky-tonks. Restaurants? Yes. I’m OK with that.’”

McCord says he bought lifetime memberships in the National Rifle Association for his children, has been given A-ratings from the NRA for the last 11 years, and has only disagreed with NRA when the organization didn’t want to put the constitutional issue of hunting and fishing to a referendum vote. At the time NRA didn’t want to make distinctions between “guns for hunting” and “all other guns.”
McCord is a handgun carry permit holder himself.

“I’m sick and tired of talking about guns in this chamber. The public thinks that’s all we do. We do a lot more, and we put a lot of thought into these bills.”

The compromise amendment from Knoxville Democrat Harry Tindell would have distinguished between restaurants, where more than half of the revenue is from the sale of food, and bars – that don’t sell that much food.

McCord says that is a good start to distinguishing between restaurants and bars.

“Representative Tindell’s amendment gets us back to what we have been working on for all these years, back to restaurant carries. But now that’s not good enough. A restaurant carry bill that we’ve worked on all these years to date, isn’t good enough. Essentially, now I’m not quoting, these are my quotes, essentially, the NRA is saying to us, ‘If you don’t support and vote for carrying guns in bars, we will not endorse you, and will in fact oppose you.’”

McCord, the chair of the House Conservation Committee, is not running for re-election.

“As I’ve stated, I’ve got a strong history of supporting the NRA, advocating them. But this line of reasoning is just bordering on lunacy. Now I’m not running again. Obviously, you can tell, because I’m sitting in here criticizing the NRA. It’s easy for me to say this. But I’ll tell you what’s not easy for me to say, is to go to a chamber meeting, or meet somebody in a grocery store, and try to explain why we are voting for guns in bars.”

Tindell’s amendment was the compromise that got the controversial bill out of the House Finance Committee. But opponents say it was flawed for two reasons:
• All establishments serving liquor by the drink in Tennessee are “restaurants,” by definition, and as such are supposed to bring in at least half their revenues from the sale of food.
• But although the state uses that criteria to issue liquor-by-the-drink licenses, the state has no way to audit the sales of those businesses.

So the distinction between the two types of businesses under the Tindell amendment would still have been difficult to establish.

Tindell’s amendment died in the House, 60-36.

The bill is SB 3012 Jackson/HB 3125 Todd.

Here is Monday night’s House vote (66 to 31) on the bill:

This was the vote in the Senate April 29.

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