In my career as a vagabond musician, I suppose I've spent a full third of my life working in bars and restaurants. I've seen some ugly incidents and brutal violence over the years, but it seldom included me. When a fight broke out, the band's policy was to keep playing unless the combatants rolled onto the bandstand, at which point, all bets were off. I have used my guitar or microphone stand as a weapon. I've turned my head to witness percussionist Skip Ousley catch the fist of an enraged person in mid-swing, right before it reached my face. We performed countless times at the Enlisted Men's Club at the Millington Naval Air Base, where there were 200 men and four women and a brawl erupted every 10 minutes. I've watched teeth fly and blood flow, but nothing quite compared to the beat-down of an inebriated patron I witnessed at an all-night club in Little Rock called the Apartment.
We were taking our break in the parking lot when a drunken fool was thrown out of the front doors by the club's immense bouncers. The drunk sprang up and attacked the two men, as drunks do, causing one of the bouncers to begin smashing the idiot's head with a lead-filled police slapper while screaming, "You done fucked up now, Bobby Gene!" When the other bouncer pulled a gun and began waving it in the air, we dove for cover behind the parked cars, while the drunk continued to fight on. After a dozen more hard blows to the head, the bleeding man struggled into his pickup and managed to lay rubber leaving the club. I had to get back on stage and reassure the freaked-out crowd that the danger was over — and play some dance music. Midway through our second song, Bobby Gene returned, only this time with a shotgun. There was some sort of standoff outside, and the police arrested him, but it was one of the few times in a club that I have been really afraid.
The common denominator in all of the incidents I witnessed through the years was alcohol. Yet, the Tennessee legislature overwhelmingly passed new laws allowing handgun-carry permit holders to bring their weapons into bars and restaurants, supposedly for self-protection. On behalf of musicians, bartenders, managers, hosts, waitstaff, cooks, cashiers, and busboys everywhere, I'd like to ask our distinguished state legislators a question: Are you people fucking crazy? Are you so deep in the pockets of the National Rifle Association that you are willing to let someone die to keep the endorsements and contributions coming? Any fool can see that if this vote becomes law, a lot of people are going to be killed. The only people who should have guns in places that sell alcohol are the owner and the security guard, just like at a liquor store. Anything else is inviting a disaster.
Governor Phil Bredesen has made the principled stand against this outrage by vetoing the bill, but there are powerful forces aligned against him, and the General Assembly is prepared to override. The bill's sponsor, Republican representative Curry Todd of Collierville, is a former police officer and should know better, but a cursory examination of his voting record shows he wants handgun permit records to be closed to the public, and he favors allowing loaded long guns in vehicles and the elimination of the thumbprint requirement for gun purchases. No wonder the NRA Political Victory Fund, which contributes to the campaigns of sympathetic legislators, gave Todd a grade of A-plus.
The curious thing is that there was no demand for this bill. It is entirely political and driven by the NRA's mission to expand carry rights into every area of public life. A fear-based campaign has already begun by the Tennessee Firearms Association and the NRA to urge their members to contact legislators to override Bredesen's veto, along with a blatant threat to the political futures of the police and law officials who stood with the governor.
The gun-toters' argument is always the same: Carry-permit holders are law-abiding citizens who must pass a rigorous course in the use and safety of a handgun before being granted a license to go strapped to Kroger's, and they are our first line of defense when the armed thugs start to invade Applebee's. Bullshit. In the past, someone had to show a legitimate purpose for carrying a weapon before being granted a permit. Now, anyone with a pulse and no felonies who can manage to act right for a few hours of training and keep from drooling over the paperwork has a gun in the glove compartment.
The last fatal shooting in a Memphis bar or restaurant came from someone who was well-trained in firearm use and licensed to carry: an off-duty policeman who became enraged after a few drinks and shot two people. Oh, I take it back. It was that hothead in Cordova who killed the father of two children in a parking lot outside a restaurant for a perceived insult toward his wife. He had a carry permit too, proving that what a handgun often does is turn a small man into a self-perceived badass. Add alcohol to that mix, and what used to be a fistfight will now become a shooting.
This is one of those "contact your congressman" times for sane people in Tennessee. For your own self-defense, tell them that this gun legislation is a really bad idea.