Friday, January 1, 2010

Guns-in-bars supporters not discouraged by poll

TN lawmakers resolute despite opposition By Nate Rau • THE TENNESSEAN • January 1, 2010 Tennessee voters overwhelmingly think a law that allows guns in bars and restaurants is a bad idea, according to a new poll commissioned by a hospitality trade group, but state lawmakers say they will forge ahead with the policy in the coming year. According to the poll commissioned by the Tennessee Hospitality Association, 67 percent of registered voters oppose the law that passed in last year's legislative session. The poll, completed in early November by Nashville-based Prince Market Research, preceded a Davidson County judge's decision that the law was unconstitutional. Association CEO Walt Baker said his group, which opposes the law, commissioned the poll to find out if its position was in line with customers. "Our industry is one that typically gives people what they want," Baker said. "We wanted to find out what people wanted. What we found out was people are opposed." Pollsters interviewed 812 voters — evenly parsed between Democrats, Republicans and independents — and found that 90 percent said property owners' rights should trump gun owners' rights. According to the poll, 39 percent of those interviewed felt less safe after the law took effect. The results echo a poll released in October by Middle Tennessee State University, which said 60 percent of Tennesseans opposed allowing guns in places that serve alcohol. Despite the public opinion polls and the Nov. 20 ruling by Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman that the law is unconstitutional because of vagueness, it appears the legislature is ready to tackle it again. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who supports the bill, said he expects the issue to be addressed in the coming session that begins later this month. State Attorney General Bob Cooper also has filed a notice to appeal Bonnyman's ruling. "I don't know which one will come first: the appeal of the judge's decision or tweaking the legislation to make it constitutional in the eyes of the chancellor," Ramsey said. Ramsey hits critics Ramsey, who is running for governor in next year's Republican primary, said had he not seen the specific poll results but believes proponents are in line with voters' wishes. He said poll questions can be twisted to elicit a desired result, and he railed against the media for overkill. "I'm not worried about it because I know what we're doing. I know we're addressing the budget, and I know we are as well run as any state," he said. "I am fatigued that the press has spent so much time on it because I know that we haven't spent so much time on it." Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, an outspoken gun-rights advocate, has prepared a bill that he says will address the judge's claims of vagueness. The new bill would allow handgun permit holders to have firearms inside establishments with liquor permits. Last year's legislation included provisions that prohibit a permit holder from consuming alcohol while in possession of a gun. Voters could retaliate The hospitality association's poll indicates the bill could be a deciding factor when Tennesseans vote next year. According to the poll, 43 percent said they'd be less likely to vote for a legislator who supported guns in restaurants, while 44 percent said it would have no impact, and 14 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a supporter of the bill. "My hope is the legislature will focus on other things and let the appeal process take hold," Baker said. State Rep. Gary Moore, D-Joelton, who supported the bill, said it needs clarity, and he knows no matter which way he votes on such a controversial issue, someone will be unhappy. He got a barrage of e-mails earlier this year promising his political demise from angry voters who opposed the bill. "I learned a long time ago you can't please everybody on your votes or your actions," he said.

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