Area residents and police officials are reasonably upset about the proliferation of handguns, particularly among gang members. Tennessee's Legislature clearly doesn't care about such concerns. Indeed, they're still focused on nothing short of expanding gun-carry rights, and putting people with guns into volatile social circumstances.
Rep. Stacey Campfield, a Knoxville Republican, for example, has introduced a half dozen bills to expand gun-carry rights, including bills that would allow university students with handgun permits to have their guns on campus in their cars. He caused a stir a couple of weeks ago when he introduced other gun-related legislation that would have conflicted with UT's efforts to keep student athletes from having and carrying guns.
If the Legislature goes along, he would not let the university prohibit or penalize lawful students and student-athlete gun-owners from possessing guns off school property. That justly rankles university administrators and the athletic department. UT has had more than its share of problems in recent years with players wrongly in possession of guns, and officials reasonably want to keep a zero-tolerance policy on gun possession.
The most troublesome bill, however, is the broad revision of the bill the Legislature passed last year which allowed people with handgun-carry permits to take their guns into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. The bill that was approved last year -- and which was later thrown out as overly vague by a Nashville chancery court -- limited gun-carry to businesses that served a minimum number of meals.
This year's replacement bill is far broader and much more dangerous. It would allow patrons with handgun-carry permits to carry their guns into any place that serves alcohol, from road-houses, roughneck bars and honky-tonks to private clubs, if the business owners did not object to guns in their bars. Those that do could post signs forbidding patrons from carrying guns into their premises.
There are several problems with this legislation, the least of which is that it promotes the National Rifle Association's gun-carry agenda in state legislatures.
Though the bill purports to give owners the right to ban gun-carry, and though it stipulates that gun-carrying patrons are not allowed to consume alcohol, both are problematic, and possibly unenforceable, conditions. That's especially true if gun-permit holders choose not to reveal their guns, or otherwise break the law and order drinks.
Unless restaurants and bars adequately screened their guests for guns, patrons easily could slip in with guns without owners and servers knowing it. They could order and consume drinks by merely lying about carrying a gun. Who's to know until a gun is drawn and shots possibly fired. Ultimately, and whether they allow guns or not, bar owners could end up being liable for over-serving someone who uses a gun, or who provokes a fight with a gun-carrying patron that becomes injurious -- quite possibly to innocent bystanders.
Police chiefs around the state remain opposed to the bill, mainly on the common-sense grounds that alcohol and guns don't mix. Tempers and youthful macho pride further aggravate the hazard of guns in bars. Regardless, a House Budget subcommittee last week approved the bill, sponsored by Rep.. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, on an 8-7 party-line vote, and it's moving up the line to the floor.
If Tennesseans don't make their opposition loudly heard, the bill probably will pass -- and gun violence will continue to grow.