citybeat (2008-03)

Guns & AlcoholGamersâ' Delight 

City Beat

A state bill aims to make it legal to carry concealed firearms into bars

A new bill making its way through the state legislature may prevent criminals from being the only people with concealed weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol, but some bartenders fear that guns wonâ’t make their businesses any safer and may pose a threat themselves.

The new bill, sponsored by Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, would change the current legislation so that those with permits to carry concealed firearms would be able to keep their pistols stowed away in their purse or jacket while dining out at restaurants with a bar, provided they donâ’t drink any alcohol themselves.

Of the 48 states that issue permits for carrying concealed weapons, 34 have laws that allow people to carry them into alcohol-serving establishments. Tennessee has issued permits since establishing requirements for carrying concealed weapons in 1997.

â“We now have more than 185,000 Tennesseans that possess handgun carrying permits,â” Jackson says. â“Since we passed the handgun permit carry law, we have not had any problems. We have states all across the country who have permit laws. Theyâ’re not experiencing any problems either.â”

Jackson, whose district covers Dickson, Giles, Hickman, Humphreys, Lawrence, and Lewis counties, says he expects the law to pass through state government by the end of February. It already passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 8-1, with the lone vote in opposition coming from Sen. Beverly Marrero, a Memphis Democrat.

â“The law-abiding citizen is not a problem,â” Jackson says. â“The heart of this issue isnâ’t about guns and bars.â”

But the issue of mixing guns and alcohol is particularly relevant in Knoxville, where a recent restaurant shooting left one man dead and another injured. A customer at the Kingston Pike location of Hooters, David Rudd, fired into the restaurant on December 28, killing Stacey Sherman, of Appelgate, Mich., and wounding assistant manager Kris Key. Rudd, who had a history of mental illness and criminal activity, was later shot to death by police.

â“You take the incident at Hooters. You had a deranged individual not lawfully carrying a gun,â” Jackson says. â“People who want to break the law couldnâ’t care less what the statute is.â”

Jackson acknowledges that on the surface allowing concealed weapons into restaurants serving alcohol may sound like a bad idea, but â“when you dig deeper into the issue it reveals that what we have on the books today makes no sense.â”

It does make sense to some people in the restaurant industry who say they would rather not mix their cocktails with loaded weapons. Laura Taylor, acting manager at Green Hills Grille in Bearden, says she doesnâ’t think the law is a good idea, especially if it becomes the restaurantâ’s responsibility to make sure people carrying a gun have a permit, and then make sure they are not drinking while having the gun on them.

â“How are you supposed to know?â” she asks. â“Are you going to have to check people at the door to see if they have a firearm on them?â”

Jackson says law-abiding citizens with concealed weapons are part of the solution to a less violent society. He cited the Lubyâ’s Cafeteria shooting on Oct. 16, 1991, in Killeen, Texas, as evidence of the need for guns in the hands of citizens.

Texas State Rep. Suzanna Gratia Hupp was having lunch at the cafeteria that day when George Jo Hennard drove his pick-up truck into the restaurant and murdered 23 people before killing himself. Hupp, by following the laws at the time, had left her gun in her car when she went inside. Itâ’s a decision she has said she regrets, especially since two of Hennardâ’s victims were Huppâ’s parents. Texas has since changed its laws, and would have allowed Hupp to bring in her gun into Lubyâ’s today.

In Memphis recently, a man began shooting into cars on a busy street, Jackson says. Two brothers with permits to carry weapons got out of their car and held the man at gun point until the police arrived.

â“How many lives did they save?â” Jackson asks. â“Violence is a part of our society and itâ’s all around us. When seconds count the police are only minutes away. When we create gun-free zones the only thing we are assuring anyone is that law-abiding citizens are not going to be armed.â”

Jackson says itâ’s an issue of the right to defend ourselves against those who want to harm us, or to help protect other innocent people if an altercation arises that warrants the use of a gun to be resolved.

â“Self-defense is a fundamental right,â” Jackson says. â“Itâ’s as fundamental as the right to breathe. You have the right to have the means to defend yourself.â”

The law also prevents permit holders from bringing in their guns if the establishment prohibits firearms. Jackson says he wants people who are currently taking their firearms into restaurants like Cracker Barrel and McDonaldâ’s that donâ’t serve alcohol to be able to carry them into places like Oâ’Charleys and Ruby Tuesday that do; an amendment states that the businesses must derive at least half their income from the sale of food.

Dan Goss, one of the managers at the Downtown Grille & Brewery on Gay Street, says he has mixed feelings about the issue: He supports the right to bear arms, but he doesnâ’t believe itâ’s always necessary, or always a good idea to carry them.

â“In a place thatâ’s serving alcohol, Iâ’m not sure if thatâ’s needed,â” Goss says. The carrying of guns should be regulated where alcohol is served, the same way itâ’s regulated at places like the courthouse, he says.

The presence of a gun makes his staff and guests uncomfortable, says Goss. There have been times when officers in their street clothes were carrying a gun, which is legal, and Goss had to approach them to find out why the weapon was being carried.

Ronnie Hart, President and CEO of the Tennessee Restaurant Association, declined to comment for the organization: â“We have no position on that legislation.â” â" Greg Wilkerson

A new downtown business puts competitive gaming in its crosshairs

Less than 10 years ago, 20 million people were self-described video-game buffs. Now, as the industry continues to grow and the technology advances, the gaming population has soared to well over 150 million. Here in Knoxville, gaming is just as popular as ever, with Epic Computing in Seymour and Game Connection in Halls catering to the true competitive gamers in our town. And soon, a new addition to the gaming scene will appear downtown on Gay Streetâ’s 100 block.

â“Currently, the video-game industry outsells the blockbuster-film industry,â” Summer Shelton writes in an e-mail. At the tail end of February, Shelton plans to open the doors of Versus at 119 S. Gay St., just a few doors down from Nama Sushi Bar. Versus is designed to provide a space for live music, artwork and competitive gaming, featuring the XBox 360, Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3. Versus doesnâ’t just cater to the youngest demographic, either; many of the kids who grew up with Atari still play with a kind of competitive spirit thatâ’s usually reserved for professional athletes.

â“Itâ’s not just kiddos that are console users,â” Shelton goes on. â“People my age [from 25 to 35] are the first video-game generation.... Most people canâ’t afford to have all the XBox 360 games in their home. Similar venues have been successful in other cities, so why not Knoxville?â”

The gaming space will take up the main floor of the building, with the downstairs to be used for all-ages concerts and impromptu art shows.

â“I really want to feature new music in Knoxville,â” Shelton says. â“I want younger bands to know that they have a place to showcase their music.â”

Sheltonâ’s brother, Sky, is a serious gamer. It was her brotherâ’s passion for gaming culture that eventually inspired Versus. Shelton insists that gaming is not a phase; itâ’s a lifestyle, a bit of high-tech culture that has grown beyond certain geeky cliques.

In January, 2005, Knoxville hosted a competitive video-game tournament at the Convention Center. It was the first so-called â“high-techâ” event in Knoxville. â“Chasing the Dream,â” the name given to the tournament that attracted gamers from around the country, was the brainchild of the former track-and-field Olympian, Knoxvillian, and avid gamer Laurence Johnson.

Even a 17-year-old student from England made the trip to Knoxville to play Halo 2 against some of the best gamers around. The purse for the Knoxville tournament was $5,000. In many ways, the competition wasnâ’t just about the money, it was, dare say, for the love of the game.

â“Itâ’s very likely that people who were passionate about Super NES are passionate about todayâ’s consoles,â” Shelton says. â“It doesnâ’t matter if they work in a bank or attend middle school. Gamers are gamers for life.

â“I donâ’t play video games,â” she adds. â“Thatâ’s a good thing, because I would probably play instead of work.â” â" Kevin Crowe

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