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Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman refused today to stop Tennessee's guns-in-bars law from taking effect tomorrow. But she did offer hope to the lawsuit's plaintiffs that she might strike down the law after a hearing on the merits of their case.
The plaintiffs, mostly restaurant owners and workers, threw a clusterfluff of absurd arguments at the judge. Among them: The law's a public nuisance because it'll spark Wild West-style gunfights, and 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.
But there was one argument that Bonnyman liked, and it's deliciously devious. Here the plaintiffs pretended to care whether the state's 200,000 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.
"Perhaps O'Charley's would be OK, but not Tootsie's. How do we know?" Smith told the judge.
"There is an argument to be made that the law is unconstitutional for vagueness," Bonnyman said. "It deserves a hearing on its merits. ... That argument does have merit."
Today's hearing attracted an overflow crowd of spectators. It was like the O.J. trial, with reporters crowded into unused courtrooms to watch the proceedings on television. Beefy men wearing gun nut T-shirts prowled the courthouse giving everyone the stink eye. The attorneys agreed to hold another hearing within three months. Pith
hereby predicts that Bonnyman, a liberal Democrat, will declare this law unconstitutional at that time. If she does, the legislature can fix it next session by letting gunmen go into any establishment that serves alcohol, bar or restaurant.