Tennesseans are clamoring to mix guns and alcohol. At least that's the impression one might take away from the Tennessee Senate's recent vote to allow people with gun permits to carry their weapons into restaurants, bars, beer joints, and nightclubs.
The bill's sponsor, Senator Doug Jackson of Dickson, has dismissed critics' suggestions that guns and alcohol are not a safe combination.
"I've had people say that guns and alcohol do not mix," Jackson has been quoted as saying. "And I will agree that until you look at the facts — until you understand this issue — that is certainly an emotional argument. ... Unfortunately, it's an argument that does not carry the day."
In Jackson's opinion, current "gun-free zones" only prohibit responsible, law-abiding citizens from taking guns into places where they may need to protect themselves from criminals.
Memphis senator Beverly Marerro has been a vocal critic of Jackson's bill, but she understands that the National Rifle Association and similar organizations are well-funded, organized, and active.
"You wouldn't believe the number of e-mails I got telling me I should vote for this proposal," says Marerro, one of only six senators to vote against the proposal.
"But I have to vote my conscience," Marerro says. "I've been in some bars in my time. And I've witnessed some erratic behavior from people who have had a little too much to drink."
Jackson's proposal specifically states that people carrying guns into bars aren't allowed to consume alcohol, but critics of the legislation are skeptical.
"As I understand it, bars exist to facilitate drinking," Marerro says.
"Are we supposed to frisk everybody?" asks the Blue Monkey's Mike Johnson. "Or have them walk through a metal detector? It just sounds like a bad idea."
P&H Café owner Bob Heaton agrees.
"Look, I understand we've got problems with crime, and people are scared," Heaton says. "Right now the law allows that nobody but me and a uniformed, on-duty police officer can carry a gun into my bar, and that's how I like it. It's just not a good idea to mix guns and alcohol, and if you say it's okay for people to carry guns into bars, more people are going to carry guns into bars."
Jeanne Richardson, a freshman representative from Memphis, says that the buzz around the House suggests that the current proposal will disappear just as similar measures have in the past.
Richardson has reservations about the proposal, some because her son works as bar security.
"They don't call them bouncers anymore," Richardson says, bragging about her son's martial arts training. "But as much training as he's had, he told me, 'I can't fight a gun.'"