A coalition, including Nashville restaurateur Randy Rayburn and nine Nashville waiters and waitresses, filed a legal challenge in Chancery Court today to the new state law allowing permit holders to carry guns in places that serve alcohol.
The suit, filed against Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper, seeks a temporary injunction before the law takes effect July 14.
"Simply put, guns and alcohol don't mix," the suit states, calling the new law a "state-createed danger" for patrons, owners and employees of drinking establishments.
Representing Rayburn and the servers, who are listed in the complaint as John and Jane Does, are Nashville attorneys David Randolph Smith and Adam Dread.
“I would not file a lawsuit that I did not think had merit,” said Smith, whose legal research showed proponents of the new state law quoted faulty statistics regarding guns in bars policies nationwide. “I think we have a substantial claim for public nuisance and unconstitutionality and illegality of this statute as violating constitutional and statutory rights, particularly due process and the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Act.”
The new law allows permit holders to carry concealed weapons into establishments which serve alcohol, although those carrying are not allowed to drink.
Additionally, restaurant owners can post signs banning guns from their premises, but Smith said that protection doesn’t go far enough. Prior to the state legislature passing the new law, it was a criminal act to bring a gun into an alcohol-serving establishment. Now the crime is merely a Class A misdemeanor, punishable with a $500 fine, Smith said.
“It decriminalizes bringing guns into posted places,” Smith said.
Smith said Tennessee became the first state to expressly allow guns in places serving alcohol - guns are expressly prohibited in 24 states.
“No state, by statute or regulation, expressly allows firearms in bars,” the suit states. “Because bars, saloons, nightclubs and restaurants with bar areas are notorious for fights, assaults an breaches of the peace.”
The suit also quashes the notion that a ban on firearms in bars infringes on Second Amendment rights.
"The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is not implicated in this case," the suit states. "Just as there is no First Amendment right to falsely cry 'fire' in a crowded theater."
Smith said the nine servers filing the suit chose to remain anonymous for fear of public backlash.
A group of Metro Council members filed legislation aimed at keeping guns out of Nashville bars by regulating beer permits, but that effort failed after the Metro Department of Law said it was on shaky legal ground. Mayor Karl Dean called guns in bars a “bad idea.”
Council is in the middle of an effort to opt Davidson County out of a new state law allowing guns in public parks.