ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

A judge's ruling that strikes down Tennessee's so-called guns-in-bars law won't bother some local restaurateurs.

"I don't think it's going to change anything," said Scott Wojtalik-Courter, owner of Pisa Pizza in North Chattanooga.

He thinks guns should not be brought into restaurants and this summer posted a sign outside the Pisa Pizza banning customers from bringing weapons inside the building.

"I don't want anybody feeling like they're free to come in here with a gun," he said.

The new law allowing people with handgun permits to be armed in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol is unconstitutionally vague, Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled on Friday.

She said the law, enacted earlier this year over the veto of Gov. Phil Bredesen, is "fraught with ambiguity."

Supporter Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, disagrees with the judge's assessment.

"I thought (the bill) was pretty clear myself," he said. "We'll go back and look at the decision and re-word the law."

The judge ruled after an hour of arguments in a lawsuit brought by a group of plaintiffs, many of them restaurant owners.

Tennessee previously banned handguns in all locations where alcohol was served. The new law made an exception for establishments that serve at least one meal on five days per week and that "the serving of such meals shall be the principal business conducted."

Plaintiffs' attorneys argued that it would be difficult for patrons to know what restaurants met the exceptions, which would put them at risk of breaking the law.

"What citizen could ever know that?" attorney David Raybin asked during the hearing. "It's criminal if you make the wrong choice."

However, Assistant Attorney General Lyndsay Fuller Sanders said patrons who have concerns "can just ask."

Sharon Curtis-Flair, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office, said attorneys will study the opinion and decide whether to appeal.

Rep. Curry Todd, a main sponsor of the measure, said he plans to "re-pass" legislation in January to fix any legal problems.

But Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, who opposed the legislation, said he hopes the Legislature will not be re-address the bill next session.

"This (has) obviously been a contentious issue," he said. "We've spent as much time on guns and bars as we need to."

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, said in a statement he was pleased with the ruling "because alcohol and firearms do not mix."

Sen. Kyle noted that although he supports the Second Amendment, he opposed the law.

"In the Wild West days of Dodge City, you had to check your guns at the town limit so you would think in the twenty-first century, common sense would tell us we should not allow guns in bars," Sen. Kyle said.

Neither Chattanooga Police Chief Freeman Cooper nor Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond had heard about the ruling Friday.

Chief Cooper said he was not aware of any incident in the city involving a gun in a bar or restaurant since the law took place.

"We will enforce the law that was enacted until a time that it is changed," he said.

Many restaurants across the state opted out of the law under a provision allowing them to do so. The legislation retained an existing ban on consuming alcohol while carrying a handgun.

Allison Sweatt, a manager at Hair of the Dog Pub, said the judge's decision makes sense.

But the law allowing guns in bars and restaurants hasn't been an issue at Hair of the Dog, she said.

"We haven't seen anybody coming in here carrying a gun," she said.

While Big River Grille corporate officials did not wish to comment on the judges decision, the restaurant does have signs posted outside banning guns from the building.

"We want to make sure everybody feels safe in our family environment," said Kelly Wilson, a spokeswoman for the restaurant's management group, Gordon Biersch Brewery.

Plaintiffs' attorney David Randolph Smith said Chancellor Bonnyman's ruling will stand unless overturned by an appeals court or the Tennessee Supreme Court. However, he said the state Legislature could pass a new law.

Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson and the chief Senate sponsor, said he expects the law to be restored either through appeals or through legislation.

"I anticipate the first of next week you're going to see legislation filed and we'll establish a clear standard," he said.

FAST FACTS

* More than 257,000 people have handgun carry permits in Tennessee.

* Tennessee's law took effect July 14.

* Thirty-seven states had similar legislation at the time.

Source: The Associated Press.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT