Tuesday, December 25, 2001

Gun permit holders want fewer restrictions
Local News - Pages 1-2

Staff Writer

Gun enthusiasts hope to persuade state lawmakers to further relax handgun restrictions during the upcoming legislative session, but will face strong opposition from restaurant owners, educators and organizations seeking tighter gun controls.

Backers of the proposal want the mushrooming number of Tennesseans with gun permits to be able to carry a handgun into a restaurant that sells alcoholic beverages and to be able to leave their weapon locked in their car on school grounds as long as they are there for any ''legitimate purpose.''

John Harris of the Tennessee Firearms Association says permit holders have shown they are responsible and that restrictions should be relaxed.

''We have a large number of people who have been trained and certified and now, with a seven-year history of carrying in the state, we have a very low if not nonexistent incident rate,'' Harris said.

''We need to take that into consideration and make reasonable rules on where they can and should be carrying. Permit holders feel like the guns are safer to the general public, and to them in particular, if they are in the permit holder's custody and control rather than left unattended in vehicles.''

But the organization representing many of the state's restaurants is ''very much opposed'' to opening its establishments to gun-toting customers, said Ronnie Hart, lobbyist for the Tennessee Restaurant Association.

''It says they can carry (a firearm) but they can't drink? How long do you think that will last?'' Hart asked. ''It is prohibited right now to carry a firearm in a restaurant or bar. We are very much in favor of keeping that in place. Things happen so fast some times that you can't control them.''

The number of Tennesseans receiving conceal and carry permits jumped from 35,337 in 1997 to 99,130 last year, according to the state Safety Department. A count of permits issued so far this year was not available.

A move is also proposed that would allow honorably discharged veterans to skip the gun safety class that others are required to take to obtain a permit to carry a concealed firearm. The bill's sponsor, Rep. H.E. Bittle, R-Knoxville, said the proposed change was a matter of common sense, since veterans are already trained in firearm safety.

Legislation to place more restrictions on firearms may also be offered.

State Rep. Henri Brooks, D-Memphis, who heads a legislative committee that has been studying how to keep children safe from guns, says the committee is not yet ready to make a recommendation on what type of legislation, if any, it may offer.

Gun restrictions with respect to restaurants have already been relaxed somewhat.

Before last year, a permit holder could not carry his or her weapon into a business that sells alcohol for off-premise consumption. That made supermarkets that sell beer off-limits, Harris said.

That prohibition was removed and the law concerning restaurants was changed to allow a permit holder to leave his or her weapon locked in a car on the restaurant parking lot. Under present law, the gun cannot be carried inside, and that is what gun enthusiasts want to change.

Keeping a gun inside the car won't work, said gun enthusiast Steve Murray, adding that the law currently puts law-abiding citizens at a disadvantage. He said robbers now know people who exit restaurants that sell alcohol are potential targets because the patrons are unarmed.

Murray, of Mt. Juliet, has had a permit to carry a firearm for three years, and owns a jewelry repair business. He says he depends on a firearm for his protection.

The owner of one local restaurant that serves beer, however, said he was concerned about mixing alcohol and people who are legally permitted to carry firearms.

''If the gun's underneath the front seat of your car, and in the parking lot, that's good enough for me,'' said Fate Thomas of Fate's Pig & Pie restaurant on Charlotte Pike. ''I do not think it needs to be at the table with you.''

The organization representing most of the state's teachers is opposed to a proposal allowing guns on school parking lots.

''Our position would be that the law is really pretty tight right now on guns on school property and that's the way it ought to be,'' said Jerry Winters, lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association. ''We see no reason to expand any law that would in any way put student safety in jeopardy.''

Duren Cheek covers state government for The Tennessean. Reach him at or (615) 726-4889. Staff writer Christian Bottorff contributed to this report.

Contact Information