NASHVILLE - Senators voted 23-9 today to let the state's handgun-carry permit holders go armed in all establishments selling alcohol, including nightclubs, bars and honky tonks.
The bill, however, says they cannot drink and they can't carry guns if the establishments post signs banning weapons.
The bill, which remains inside a House committee, is intended to nullify a Davidson County judge's ruling last year. The judge tossed out a similar 2009 law saying it was unconstitutionally vague.
The judge threw out the law because it sought to take into account the vagaries of Tennessee's liquor-by-the-drink law, which involves the amount of food that must be sold by restaurants.
The new bill does away with such distinctions and allows permit holders to go armed in any establishment with on-premises alcohol consumption unless barred by signs.
The Senate's action differs from the House companion bill, which would let handgun-carry permit holders go armed in restaurants selling alcohol but requires establishments to post signs banning weapons if they earn less than 50 percent of their gross sales from food.
"When we try to set up these artificial barriers - well, you have the right to carry, but you can't carry here and you can't carry there without good demonstrated reasons - what we do is we make it impractical for that person to exercise that right and have the means to defend themselves," said Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson.
As passed, the bill would make it a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and fines of up to $2,500 for permit holder to consume any alcohol while carrying their weapons.
Another amendment says that permit holders, if found to be intoxicated, would be stripped of their permits for three years.
Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, argued the amendments would impose additional costs on the state and the bill, as a result, should be sent back to the Finance Committee. His motion was killed on a voice vote.
For complete details, see tomorrow's Times Free Press.