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Local eateries mixed opinions on banning guns

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By BEN DUDLEYThe Wilson Post

As of 12 a.m. Tuesday, July 14, anyone with a Handgun Carry Permit will be allowed to carry their concealed firearms inside restaurants that serve alcohol as long as they do not drink.

However, several restaurant owners are opting to post signs that prohibit guns, which the new law allows.

Demos’, Painturo’s, Castle Heights Chop House, Outback, Ole Neighborhood Bar & Grill, and Coach’s Eastgate Grille will not allow guns on the premises and either have signs posted or have ordered signs.

At the time of publication, O’Charley’s, Applebees and Legends Sports Bar were the only restaurants that had decided to follow the law and allow HCP holders to carry guns inside. Several restaurants, such as  Cherokee, Chili’s and Ruby Tuesdays, did not respond to messages.The manager of the Castle Heights Chop House, Ann Willits, said that it was the decision of the owner, her husband Dave Willits, to prohibit guns.

Dave Willits also is a part owner of Ole Neighborhood Bar & Grill in Lebanon and Willstan’s Grill in Lavergne.

“This is a stupid law,” Dave Willits said. “Why even have laws if you’re going to give the power to enforce it back to the people? It takes away the teeth from law if you allow the people the choice of whether or not to enforce it.”

Willits said this new law was similar to the smoking ban in that individual restaurants could decide whether they would allow smoking and what restrictions to put on smokers.  

Ann Willits wanted either the city or county government to support the restaurants planning to prohibit guns and opt out of the law for the entire city or county.

“I’m not worried about the people with guns,” Willits said. “I’m worried about the guy sitting next to him who is depressed about losing his job and is drinking. What if that person drinking takes the gun [from the patron who is not drinking] and starts shooting?

“Who is held liable in that situation? Is it the restaurant owner for allowing the gun inside, the gun owner for carrying his gun, or the shooter?”

Willits was also questioning whether or not this new law supersedes the previous law making it a misdemeanor to carry a loaded weapon into an establishment that serves alcohol. Danielle Elks, Executive Director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, said that the law is still in effect for restaurants that choose to do not allow firearms.

“If the establishment prohibits guns and someone still carries a gun onto the premises,” Elks said, “that person is still guilty of a misdemeanor.”Marty Brown, owner of The Bull & Whistle Pub & Eatery in Lebanon, said he did not know what he was going to do about the new law.“If I put up a sign about not allowing guns,” Brown said, “people will think that we’ve had a problem with guns before and that’s not the case at all.

“I think it’s a bad law and I wish that [the congressmen] had used more common sense.”

Several people have said that they would not feel safe in going to O’Charley’s or other restaurants if they allow guns. Willits thinks that this will “definitely hurt their business.”

Randy Rayburn, owner of Sunset Grill in Nashville, and other restaurant owners had filed an emergency injunction in order to stall the new law and specify the language. However, this injunction was overturned, while the judge called for a hearing on the law within the next 90 days.

Some bars in downtown Nashville, such as Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, are planning to use metal-detecting wands to frisk patrons as the walk through the door in order to find out which people are carrying handguns and then to see if they have permits. These wands are said to cost at least $2,000.


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