Memphis, TN – On July 14th roughly 220,000 handgun owners will have the privilege of carrying their weapons into bars and restaurants, thanks to legislation passed by the state of Tennessee. Nicole Erwin reports how a nationally recognized street in Memphis is preparing for the change.
"We've already seen in this community a number of shootings in bars and restaurants and parking lots, I think this just makes it worse and I don't understand what the public purpose was for passing this law," John Elkington said.
John Elkington represents the Beale Street Merchants Association and Performa Entertainment. He says guns and alcohol don't mix, which is why all handgun carriers will have to leave their weapons at home if they want to enjoy Beale Street. Come July 17th signs will be posted stating "No Guns Allowed." The new legislation restricts handgun carriers from drinking alcohol while inside the bar or restaurant but does not require the carrier to expose their weapon. Elkington says locally business owners can choose whether or not to permit handgun carriers in their establishments.
"We are in a much more volatile situation as a bar than we are as a restaurant. I kept hearing these remarks from various legislators about how they want to protect these people in Chili's and all that, that's great but that's not where the problems occur. You know we have a very tough job in handling security anyway and this is just going to make it that much more difficult," Elkington said.
Elkington says businesses on Beale Street will use security measures including batons to check for firearms. He says knives are already restricted from the street. In one summer security collected more than 650 knives. Elklington says it is not that he doesn't support Second Amendment rights, rather he sees no public purpose in the legislation. State senator Doug Jackson of Dickson is a strong proponent of the bill, he says the purpose is not only to uphold Second Amendment rights but to provide the individual the opportunity to protect themselves. Jackson says that Governor Phil Bredesen's decision to veto the bill was an emotional decision rather than factual, Jackson says Gun Free Zones simply don't work.
"I mean if you look at the travesties that occur, the mass shootings, they're almost always in the gun free zones. You had a restaurant there in the city of Memphis, a deranged individual went out and got a gun illegally. He wasn't a handgun carry permit holder. He went in there and shot the manager. I remember that because I spoke about that in the committee. The manager and everyone in there was defenseless. It is really hard to imagine how government can get to the point to tell a citizen that you don't have the right to defend yourself," Jackson said.
Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton says the new gun legislation takes Memphis in the opposite direction it should be going. He says the no drinking mandate will do little to protect from the chaos that comes with alcohol and guns.
"If you got it on, you better not get any alcohol. And you know even if you prosecuted somebody who violated it, violated that restriction, it is too late for the victim. All the prosecution in the world is not gonna bring it back and we are trying to lessen the chances of that and there is one thing for sure if the gun isn't in there, no one is going to get shot," Wharton said.
"I really don't like getting into these what if scenarios. You can let your imagination run free and wild and come up with all sorts of scary thoughts. What you have to do to look at this issue correctly is to look at the statistics and facts and experience of all these other states, it's like a living laboratory every single day." Jackson said.
Senator Jackson says the 36 other states with similar gun legislation have yet to revoke their current policy. He says the state safety department records show handgun permit holders in Tennessee are responsible as well--with only 278 permits revoked in the last year. According to Memphis police records, there were 1,296 assaults through May; 727 of them involved guns. There were 55 criminal homicides, 44 of those were also committed with guns.