Wednesday, April 21, 2010

TN bill would ban guns in bars, allow them in restaurants

Restaurateur says he's not likely to challenge amended legislation By Nate Rau • THE TENNESSEAN • April 21, 2010 Tennessee's guns-in-bars bill became a guns-in-restaurants bill Tuesday when a House committee amended it to ban guns from any establishment that makes more than half its money from booze sales rather than food. That would effectively ban guns from bars but allow state carry permit holders to bring their weapons into restaurants that serve alcohol. Drinking while carrying a gun would still be illegal. Nashville restaurateur Randy Rayburn — who took a previous guns-in-bars bill to court, where it was killed — says he isn't likely to challenge the amended bill, with a couple of other changes. Rayburn questioned how the amendment would affect establishments that serve only beer, which are licensed by local governments. The state licenses restaurants and bars that serve liquor. Restaurant owners still could ban guns by posting signs. Rayburn said those signs — and the signs on bars — should have simple language and be a smaller, standard size. He favors a 4-inch-by-4-inch square showing a gun inside a circle with a line through it, copying the universal "not allowed" symbol. Sen. Doug Jackson, a Dickson Democrat, has proposed an amendment to the guns bill in the Senate that would address Rayburn's concerns about the signs. "If the signage issue is addressed, and the issue of beer taverns is addressed, then I will not personally challenge the constitutionality of this bill," Rayburn said. The bill will be up for a vote in the full Senate as soon as next week. Senators would consider the House amendment before voting on the bill. Amendment clears way Before the guns bill was amended Tuesday, the finance committee was almost evenly divided on it, mostly along party lines. With the amendment, it passed 20-6. It now goes to the calendar committee, which routinely sends bills on to the House floor. Rep. Harry Tindell, a Knox County Democrat, proposed the change, which says that any establishment with less than 50 percent food sales would have to post a sign banning guns. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Curry Todd, a Republican from Collierville. The legislature passed a similar law last year, but a Nashville judge ruled it was unconstitutionally vague. Todd filed new legislation this year that would have allowed permit holders to carry guns into any establishment that serves alcohol. Tennessee law says all businesses that serve liquor are restaurants and must make more than 50 percent of their take from food sales. But many restaurants across the state do not meet that requirement. Those establishments pay a monthly fine to the state's Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The fine is a pittance compared with the money made serving liquor. Under Tindell's amendment, those bars would be forced to post signs banning guns. "It just says the owner, who will know what his or her sales are, will post the sign if they're not primarily a food establishment," Tindell said. Before the amendment, the bill faced opposition from the business community and restaurant owners, who worried that posting signs to ban firearms might hurt business. Todd said after the meeting that he needed time to consider Tindell's amendment. "I've got a grasp of what I think it will do," Todd said. "Seeing it today, I haven't had a chance to read it, so I will try to go back and see what's actually in there. "On the concept, it sounds good." At the beginning of the legislative session, Todd filed a bill aimed at fixing the state's vague liquor laws. Todd's bill would revoke an establishment's restaurant license if the 50 percent food requirement is not met. That bill remains in a House subcommittee.

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