Judge Rules Tennessee Guns in Bars Law Unconstitutional

By Kamika Dunlap on November 25, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Tennessee bar-goers whose first question is "may I take my gun?" received a bit of a setback this week.

A judge ruled that the new Tennessee gun law allowing licensed handgun owners to bring their weapons to restaurants and bars that serve alcohol is unconstitutionally vague.

Since Tennessee has no legal definition to distinguish bars from restaurants, Claudia Bonnyman, sitting in Davidson County chancery court, said the statute was "fraught with ambiguity," the Associated Press reports.

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

But critics say, guns and alcohol don't mix. 

Recent polls show overwhelmingly that most think the answer to "may I take my gun to the bar?" should be no.

The law allowed handgun permit holders to take their weapons into places serving alcohol, provided the establishment makes more than 50 percent of its profits from food.

Restaurant owners could also institute their own gun bans.

The Tennessee gun law new law took effect July 14. Thirty-seven states had similar legislation at the time.

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.

The lawsuit was brought by a group of plaintiffs, many of them restaurant owners who argued that it would be difficult for patrons to know what restaurants meet the guns in bars parameters.

Currently, the state attorney general's office will study the opinion and decide whether to appeal.

State Sen. Doug Jackson, a Democrat and sponsor of the bill, said Bonnyman did not question the law's policy effect. He plans to less ambiguously answer the "may I take my gun?" question in another bill soon.

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