Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Critics oppose bill mixing guns, booze
Front Page Story - Local News - Pages 1-2

By DUREN CHEEK Staff Writer

Eateries, hotels fear consequences

Groups representing the state's restaurants, hotels and motels are not terribly happy about a new proposal that would allow people with gun permits to carry their weapons into places where alcoholic beverages are served, even though they would be prohibited from drinking.

The bill is the No. 1 priority of two groups of gun enthusiasts seeking to relax the state's weapons laws, according to a spokesman for the organizations.

Nashville attorney John Harris, a spokesman for the Tennessee Firearms Association, said the second priority of his group and the National Rifle Association is to increase reciprocity with other states, allowing Tennessee to honor permits of out-of-state gun owners who want to carry their concealed weapons when they are in the state.

Harris said that allowing ''the individual who has a carry permit to keep the weapon with them is preferable to leaving it unattended in a vehicle. It is less likely to get stolen.''

''Come downtown (Nashville) on a weekend. You may park your vehicle and have to walk three or four blocks to get to Second Avenue where the restaurants are,'' Harris said. ''The risk is not necessarily that someone is going to be attacked in the restaurant and need their weapon there. The issue is more coming to and going from their vehicle to get to the restaurant. There is a perceived need for personal protection. You are at risk.

''Our bill would not prohibit a restaurant owner from posting a sign on their property saying no guns allowed. Our bill would not prevent a restaurant owner from asking a patron to leave if some other patron were to say he saw a gun.''

There is a hearing on that bill this afternoon in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Both bills are among 22 gun bills sponsored by state Rep. Ben West of Hermitage, who informed a House subcommittee last week that he plans to pare down his list to the top five or six bills he wants to press.

West said on Friday he was still working on narrowing the list, and he did not yet know which bills he would give priority. He is to present the list to the House subcommittee a week from to-day.

''Clearly, the two issues I hear the most from in terms of my constituents and my membership are the bills on restaurants and the bills on reciprocity,'' Harris said last week. ''The NRA has likewise identified those as the two big bills from their standpoint this year.''

Spokesmen for organizations representing the state's restaurants, hotels and motels say thanks but no thanks.

Pam Inman, lobbyist for the Tennessee Hotel and Lodging Association, said an establishment that serves liquor is no place to carry a gun.

''We want our guests to be safe. We don't feel like it is appropriate for anyone to be able to bring a gun into a bar or restaurant or hotel,'' Inman said.

Dan Haskell, who represents the Tennessee Restaurant Association, said his group has opposed the legislation for at least three years.

''I think we will continue to do that,'' Haskell said. ''We like it the way it is. Current law says that you can't bring a handgun into a place where alcohol is sold for consumption, and we think that is appropriate.''

Harris said the bill eliminates the automatic prohibition against anyone with a firearm going into a place that serves liquor or other alcoholic beverages.

Instead, it would give the business owner the option of determining whether to admit armed customers.

Another controversial proposal would establish reciprocity for gun-permit holders in other states.

''We are relaxing our standards so that we can increase the number of states we are entering into reciprocity with,'' Harris said.

''Our position is there are slightly over 40 states that issue carry permits to their citizens. Tennessee only recognizes nine of those. The reason is when they enacted our law in 1996, they put a provision in there that says we are only going to accept or honor permits from states whose issuing process is substantially similar to ours.''

State Rep. Rob Briley, a Nashville attorney, has been a sharp critic of the gun bills. ''Reciprocity says basically if somebody from another state has a carry permit, they can carry it in Tennessee,'' Briley said. ''They are trying to nationalize the carry-permit law.

''The problem with that is there are many states out there with fewer restrictions. There are states that let 18-year-olds carry guns. I don't think we should.''

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