In their lawsuit against the state's guns-in-bars law, restaurant owners tossed a clusterfluff of weird arguments at Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman. Among them: Restaurants will violate OSHA regulations because flying bullets will constitute one helluva of an unsafe workplace.
"We threw all the arrows in our quiver," attorney David Randolph Smith admitted early in the case.
But there was one argument that Bonnyman liked, and it was deliciously devious. The plaintiffs pretended to care whether the state's 250,000 handgun-carry permit holders are subjected to unfair prosecutions. The law allows loaded weapons only in establishments whose principal business is the sale of food. Gun proponents love this provision, saying it means the law doesn't actually allow guns in bars but only in restaurants that happen to serve alcohol. It helps them seem more reasonable. But they make that claim with a wink and a nod because everyone knows that, as a practical matter, it's impossible to tell the difference.
The law's opponents cleverly turned the provision against the gun nuts. If no one can tell which is which, then how will all our law-abiding citizen gunmen know when they're breaking the law by waltzing into a bar with a loaded weapon? That makes the law unconstitutionally vague, the plaintiffs contended. They even corralled four handgun-carry permit holders to join the lawsuit.
Bonnyman ruled Friday the law is "fraught with ambiguity" and struck it down. The state can appeal that decision, but that could take up to a year. Before that happens, the legislature's many Second Amendment champions already are boasting that they'll fix things quickly next session by passing a new law that's clearer.
If this year's session is any indication, they shouldn't have much trouble. New laws to let handgun-carry permit holders go just about anywhere they please in Tennessee were the signature achievements of the new GOP majority this year, and Republicans had plenty of help from gun-loving Democrats. It was the year of the gun.
One new law allows guns in city parks unless local governing bodies forbid it. Another lets permit holders ride around in their pickups with loaded rifles and shotguns. Yet another, titled the "Tennessee Firearms Freedom Act," purports to eliminate federal regulation of guns made in Tennessee. It won't really do that, of course—not on the federal government's watch—but it sure did make legislators feel good when they passed it.
Even as the legislature moved quickly and with astonishingly little debate to let licensed gunmen carry their weapons into saloons, playgrounds and other new places, permit holders were accused of four murders in this state. Two were road-rage shootings, which arguably might not have happened if the handgun hadn't been so handy. In one, the permit holder shot and killed the other motorist after an accident, then pointed his .40 caliber pistol at a witness trying to dial 911, according to police. Another permit holder killed somebody in an argument over a parking space, police say.
Then there's the handgun permit holder who shot and wounded his wife while cleaning his loaded Glock while watching Cher on TV. And the one who pleaded guilty to assault after threatening his wife with his weapon.
Incredibly enough, there was absolutely no mention of any of these crimes at the legislative sessions the Scene heard. Zip. The only way we learned these guys were licensed to carry handguns was by checking the Tennessee handgun-carry permit database. That's the list that gun advocates tried to close to the public so people couldn't find out what licensed gunmen are doing. Even when that bill was debated—and it was finally defeated—no one brought up any of these crimes.
"Bring to me evidence that this [has] caused harm to the public in the states that have had this law for many years, I'll pull this bill myself," said Doug Jackson, chief Senate sponsor of the guns-in-bars law.That was a month after the Violence Policy Center, a gun control advocacy group, issued a report showing concealed-handgun permit holders killed at least seven police officers and 44 private citizens in 31 shootings in this country in only the past two years.
Plus the center said it was under-reporting the number of murders because it was forced to rely on news reports to compile the data.
Our legislators didn't want to know about these inconvenient crime reports. But since the session ended, new stats have been compiled that should interest them more. First, 70 cities and counties opted out of the guns-in-parks law, deciding they didn't really want gunmen parading about on their playgrounds and softball fields. And then a new poll by MTSU showed a whopping 80 percent of Tennesseans think guns in bars are stupid. Whoops! Looks like Tennessee's firearms freaks have overplayed their hand—and Bonnyman's ruling might stand longer than anyone thinks.
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