|Whiskey, gun. Photo: Swift Benjamin, Flickr
Unless a judge grants a last-minute injunction, Tennessee residents with the proper permits will be able to carry their concealed, loaded firearms into restaurants serving alcohol starting this coming Tuesday. That makes Tennessee the first state in the nation to expressly allow folks to tuck their guns into hidden holsters and sidle up to the bar.
Attorney David Randolph Smith, who's representing 10 citizens opposing the law, says in what some might consider an understatement, "the problem with having guns where alcohol is served is that fights and breaches of the peace are known to occur."
Or, as Nashville songster Travis Tritt put it more lyrically in one of his biggest hits: "Each time I drink, I start to think I'm 10-feet tall and bulletproof."
Smith's clients, however, represent citizens who think they are not bulletproof, and are headed to court on Monday to try to stop the law from taking effect. While the law officially forbids the state's 300,000 concealed weapon holders from drinking while packing, it doesn't forbid armed patrons from waddling into an establishment already drunk -- or prevent teetotalers from lugging guns for their rowdier spouses.
"It increases the liability of restaurants," Smith says. "Do you put up metal detectors? Do you put up wands?"
Supporters of the law -- including the legislators who swept aside the governor's veto -- argue dozens of states have already made de facto allowances for gun owners to protect themselves in restaurants. What complicates the situation in Tennessee, Smith says, are longstanding laws that require establishments serving hard liquor to derive at least half their sales from food. That means every bar in the state, from east Tennessee's biker dives to the latter-day juke joints of Memphis, is officially a restaurant.
John Egerton, a well-known chronicler of the south, has come out hard against the new law. But the law may well prevail in the Volunteer State, where drinking Jim Beam and carrying on, is -- in the words of Hank Williams Jr. -- an old family tradition.