Friday, June 5, 2009

Nashville councilmen want to thwart Tennessee gun law

Change in local beer laws could ban arms in some bars;State might counter any Metro action with new legislation By Chas Sisk • THE TENNESSEAN • June 5, 2009 A move is building to circumvent a new law that permits guns in bars and restaurants. On the same day that the state Senate voted to override Gov. Phil Bredesen's veto of the law, a group of Metro Council members said they are studying a proposal to use alcohol control laws to keep handguns out of establishments that serve beer. The ordinance, which raises legal and political questions, would thwart efforts to allow handgun carry permit holders to take their weapons into all eating and drinking establishments in the state. "This is a stupid idea to have guns where alcohol is served," Councilman Carter Todd said. "This looks like it may be a way to fix the problem." The Senate joined the House in overriding Bredesen's veto, voting 21-9 to allow guns in all restaurants, not just those that do not serve alcohol. Because the state does not distinguish legally between bars and restaurants, bars also would be open to anyone with a state-issued permit to carry a handgun. The law says permit holders cannot drink while carrying. Some Metro Council members believe the new law can be sidestepped by adding a restriction to beer permits. The restriction would prohibit businesses that hold beer permits from letting anyone bring a gun inside. About 1,500 bars and restaurants would be covered by the restriction. Establishments that serve only wine or liquor — and no beer — would be exempt because they are regulated by the state, not Metro. "That was a deal made a long time ago," said Adam Dread, a former Council member and Nashville attorney who has been circulating the proposal. "Counties get to decide for themselves" how to regulate beer sales. A spokeswoman for Mayor Karl Dean said he opposes allowing guns in bars and restaurants but would need to study the idea of a Metro ban. Council asks legal advice Councilman Charlie Tygard said he has asked the council's attorney to review the idea. If it passes muster, Tygard said he could file the measure as soon as today, putting it on track for the first of three required votes by the end of the month. If approved, the ordinance could go into effect a few weeks after the guns-in-restaurants law takes effect July 14. Other jurisdictions might take similar steps if Metro passes such a ban. "If Metro gets some traction on that, I would not be surprised to see other cities follow suit," said Don Long, a Hendersonville city spokesman. Sending wrong message? Bars, restaurants, businesses and other establishments already can keep guns out under the law that passed the legislature Thursday. To do so, they post a sign at the door saying they do not allow firearms on the premises. Violating that ban carries a fine of up to $500. But signs posted outside bars, honkytonks and other restaurants would signal to tourists, many of whom come from states and countries with more restrictive gun laws, that Nashville is awash in firearms, supporters of a Metro ban say. Signs also might make restaurant and bar owners liable if someone carrying a gun harmed a patron inside, these people say. That could raise insurance premiums for those businesses. "To be put in this position is ridiculous," said Bob Bernstein, owner of Fido, Bongo Java and Grins Vegetarian Café. A ban on guns in places that serve beer probably would be legal, but it might have consequences. The Metro beer board would have no authority to punish a drinker who carries a gun into an establishment that serves beer. Instead, it could punish only the restaurant or bar, said Gary M. Brown, the beer board's chairman. "The difficulty is, how would you enforce that?" he said. A move by Metro to keep guns out of restaurants also might invite further action by the state legislature, which can change the laws that grant local governments the authority to regulate beer. "It would strike me as a bit unusual that a local ordinance would trump a state law. That's not usually how it works," said Sen. Doug Jackson, a sponsor of the guns-in-restaurants bill. "I think there would probably be legislation filed in January so that lawmakers could discuss it."

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