Have you ever wondered what you would do if you were sitting in an Outback Steakhouse, minding your own darned business when some rogue pilfered your Bloomin’ Onion? Raise your hand if you feel the most appropriate response would be shooting said rogue with a gun. Now those of you with a limb in the air, pack your bags and head east to Tennessee.
Last week, House Republicans in that state pushed a series of bills related to gun use through a judicial subcommittee, and one of those bills would allow handgun concealed-carry permit holders to have their firearms in alcohol-serving restaurants until 11 p.m.
There is a condition that the person with the gun should not personally be drinking, but there remains the risk posed by there being alcohol and potentially inebriated people around the gun-toter: Though I hate to paint all sots with a broad brush, drunk people are usually more pugnacious than sober people, and, of course, conditions can be ignored after the gun is in the door.
Granted it’s not the most harebrained scheme in the history of Tennessee governance — Article IX of their state constitution currently prohibits both atheists and duelists (yes, people involved in duels) from holding public office, for example — but I still fail to understand how there could be substantial justification for a law that encourages any mixing of guns and booze.
A defense of the bill might be that guns could be used for self-defense anywhere, but I contend that there is, outside of extraordinary circumstance, little chance that anyone will need to defend his or her life or honor either side of a Chocolate Thunder From Down Under. People need guns while they’re eating food about as much as they need flame-throwers while they’re emptying the dishwasher.
This is not to say that people never need guns. I can understand wanting to have a gun at home to protect the family in the case of a break-in, etc. There are even some situations when I can see logic, tenuous though it may be, of wanting to have a weapon outside of the house and therefore needing a concealed-carry permit.
Another bill pushed through the subcommittee, for example, would allow permit-holders to carry guns in state parks, and that allowance could certainly make a run-in with the Tennessee-native black bear or bobcat a mite less stressful. While the bobcat scenario is rather pathetic justification, at least it's a reason. What possible reason could there be, even at the extremes of logic, for needing guns in a place where there is roughly nil threat of physical harm?
This sort of illogical concealed-carry promoting is not, alas, contained by Tennessee’s borders. Some Missourians also lobby to have guns in places that there is similarly no ostensible need to have them. Missouricarry.com, an organization founded to support concealed-carry laws in this state, has a “Business Boycott” list made of “establishment locations that turn away customers who wish to exercise their right to carry a concealed weapon.” Among the locations most recently added by the (according to the site) 4,000 plus members are KFC, Burlington Coat Factory and Uncle Bill’s Pancake House. Talk about minefields.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, firearms are a leading cause of injury-related death in America. They account for tens of thousands of deaths annually, and many of those killings happen in the heat of a moment. But getting into numbers is pretty much guaranteed to lead to some statistical stalemate based on guns in general. What I want is the data to specifically show that there is any need, other than satisfying a purely emotional wish to stretch the right to bear arms beyond where it needs to be, of having guns in a Burlington Coat Factory — much less a similarly innocuous location stocked with firewater.
People have killed other people with guns because of arguments over parking spaces. The presence of a gun often makes conflicts escalate unnecessarily, and there needs to be a compelling reason to allow firearms to be carried in a space before those risks are run. I only hope someone in the Tennessee legislature points this out when their top judiciary committee discusses the bill again on Wednesday.
Katy Steinmetz is a columnist and reporter for the Missourian. She moved to Columbia after spending two years teaching in Winchester, England, and one year in Edinburgh, Scotland. She has freelanced for a variety of publications, including 417 Magazine in Springfield, Mo., and the Guardian in London. Katy plans to complete her MU master's degree in 2010.