If you head into a bar in Tennessee, you no longer have to leave your loaded pistol behind.
The state recently passed a law explicitly allowing loaded guns in bars, joining Arizona, Georgia and Virginia in permitting the weapon-toting practice. The development reflects, The New York Times reports, a new wave in the country’s gun debate, as the gun lobby pushes bills in one state after another.
The expansion of gun owners’ rights was ushered in by two U.S. Supreme Court rulings that overturned handgun bans in Washington and Chicago and found that individuals have the right to keep a loaded handgun for their own defense.
Along with the legislative efforts, the Times said, more than 250 lawsuits have been filed challenging gun laws.
Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun control advocacy group, said “the attitude from the gun lobby is that they should be able to take their guns wherever they want.”
But Curry Todd, the Tennessee state representative who introduced the guns-in-bars bill, said the new law was intended to allow people to defend themselves while getting to and from an establishment. “Folks were being robbed, assaulted — it was becoming an issue of personal safety,” said Todd, a Republican, who added that the National Rifle Association had helped his legislative efforts.
Along with the four states explicitly permitting loaded guns in bars, 18 states allow weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol. Another 20 states don’t have laws addressing the issue, apparently allowing by default people with permits to carry guns into places that serve alcohol.
Under Tennessee’s law, gun owners are barred from drinking alcohol when they carry weapons. Restaurant and bar owners also can prohibit customers from bringing guns inside their establishments.
Still, the law has critics, including Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, who vetoed the bill but was overriden by the state legislature. A customer at a Nashville bar quoted by the Times said the new law “opens the door to trouble. It’s giving you the right to be Wyatt Earp.”