Tennessee: Bar owners dismayed by gun bill

Tennessee: Bar owners dismayed by gun bill

June 5th, 2009 by Adam Crisp in News

Chip McKeldin doesn't want to frisk customers or install metal detectors at his newly opened Deluxe Grill and Tap on Market Street.

But he's not sure how to handle the state's new law that says those with permits to carry loaded handguns can take them - concealed - into bars and restaurants.

Owners of such establishments have the right to post a sign barring weapons, but what good does that do, Mr. McKeldin asked.

"You can post a sign, but how would you really know if they have a gun?" he asked. "It seems like we'd have to be like the clubs in New York, frisking everyone, running a portal with metal detectors."

The new bill passed the House and Senate in early May, but Gov. Phil Bredesen vetoed it on May 28. Legislators quickly vowed to override the veto, which they did in the House on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday.

The bill goes into effect on July 14.

One local bar owner said he's only vaguely familiar with the provision but was shocked to hear that it became law.

"It just blows my mind that it's even gotten to this point, where people are actually discussing the need to bring a gun into a bar," said Dustin Choate, an owner of Tremont Tavern on Hixson Pike on the North Shore. "I don't know what we will do, if anything, to address it."

Other bar owners say they already search their patrons with the knowledge that guns, liquor and partying don't mix.

"We search them anyway," said Randy Braswell, owner of Deep Blue nightclub on Brainerd Road. "It's just been our practice since we opened to search people to make sure there are no types of weapons - guns, knives, whatever. We don't want anyone getting shot or stabbed."

Staff Photo by Tim Barber Chip McKeldin, 30, owner of Deluxe Grill and Tap, leans on one of the tables in his Market Street establishment. Mr. McKeldin is concerned about who might be carrying a gun into his bar.

Staff Photo by Tim Barber Chip McKeldin, 30, owner...

Chattanooga Police Chief Freeman Cooper, an outspoken opponent of the new law, said he wasn't surprised the measure was overridden by the Legislature, but now he says he is certain his officers will have to deal with more calls as bar patrons pull or lose weapons in crowded bars and clubs.

"The biggest portion of the problem falls on the shoulders of law enforcement, restaurant owners or bar or club managers," Chief Cooper said. "Who's going to enforce this? Who is going to take action if one of these people is drinking? Unfortunately, I think law enforcement will be brought in on the end of that when an incident occurs."

The National Rifle Association, which lobbied hard for the bill, said its passage and the overrides this week are a vote of trust for concealed-carry permit holders.

"Until today, Tennessee law has prevented right-to-carry permit holders from having the chance to defend themselves from criminal attack while in a restaurant," said Chris W. Cox, NRA chief lobbyist, in a written statement. "This veto override proves Tennessee legislators trust permit holders and understand this is a common sense measure.

The bill "will allow permit holders the opportunity to protect their own lives and the lives of those they love," he said.

Chief Cooper doesn't see it that way. He said most people aren't prepared to use a handgun as a self-defense tool. The 40-hour training required for Tennessee permit holders simply doesn't equip them to respond if a life-and-death situation crops up at a bar or restaurant, he said.

"What (the average person) doesn't realize is that those incidents - fights, disorders, hold-ups - occur in seconds, not minutes or hours as depicted on TV," Chief Cooper said. "Law enforcement officers train for hundreds of hours to be prepared in those incidents."