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 aside from one or two times, it never 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, but we were fortunate to have a couple of big guys in the band who were our enforcers. I've actually 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 ten 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.
Members of the Radiants were taking our parking lot break 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 man was beaten nearly senseless. When he tried to struggle to his feet he received a parting boot kick to the ribs that thudded across the lot and dropped him on his back. Still, the bleeding man struggled into his pick-up and managed to lay rubber leaving the club. It then became my job to get back on stage and reassure the freaked-out crowd that the danger was over and play some dance music, but midway through our second song, I saw a sort of panic sweep the room. It seems Bobby Gene had returned, only this time with a shotgun, and there was some sort of stand-off outside. For an agonizing moment, the nightclubbers, as well as the band, believed we could be part of a hostage situation. 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 these incidents 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. So, on behalf of musicians, bartenders, managers, hosts, wait staff, cooks, cashiers, and busboys everywhere, I'd like to ask our distinguished state legislators a question. Are you people fucking crazy? Are you so deeply 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, somebody, and possibly a lot of somebodies, is going to be killed. The only people that should have guns in places that sell alcohol should be the owner and the security guard, just like at the 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 exam of his voting record shows he wants handgun permit records to be closed to the public, 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+. The curious thing is that there was no demand for this bill. There have been no Luby's style massacres in the local cafeterias. The bill is entirely political and driven by the NRA 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, along with a blatant threat to the political futures of the police and law officials that stood with the Governor.
The gun-toters' argument is always the same: that carry permit-holders are law-abiding citizens that must pass a rigorous course in the use and safety of a handgun before being granted a licence to go strapped to Kroger's, and that they are our first line of defense when the armed drug gangs start to invade our 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. Why do you suppose the number of road rage shootings has recently rocketed?
Instead of guns in bars, there should be more bars in guns. The last fatal shooting in a Memphis nightclub 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 over a parking space. Oh, I take it back. It was that hothead in Cordova, near Rep. Todd's district, who killed the father of two children in the 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 fist-fight will now become a shooting. The new law states that the gun holder is not supposed to be drinking in these "food-serving" establishments. Who's going to enforce that; the waiter or the bartender? This is one of those "contact your congressman" times for the sane people in Tennessee. For your own self-defense, find them at link, or www.tn.gov, and tell them that this gun legislation is a really bad idea. No one deserves to be shot over their creme brulee because of an NRA campaign donation.