Beale Street Bans Guns

Tennesseans who hold gun permits can tote firearms into establishments that serve alcohol following the recent passage of a new law, but a Memphis entertainment district has put its boot down.

Historic Beale Street, which houses restaurants, bars and venues including B.B. King’s Blues Club and Hard Rock Café, is taking advantage of an existing provision that allows owners of establishments to prohibit firearms. The district has issued a gun ban – posting signage prohibiting firearms throughout the district and screening anyone who steps onto the street with metal detectors at entrance points.

“We have a right to make sure that common sense prevails,” Beale Street Merchants Association head Onzie Horne told the Memphis Daily News. “We do not want to put on our waitstaff the responsibility for exercising judgment as to who’s consuming an alcoholic beverage and who’s not – who’s having a concealed weapon on their person and who’s not. It is an undue burden that would be practically unenforceable.”

Part of that burden seems to stem from some fuzzy details in the new law. Gun owners may now enter bars but are prohibited from drinking, yet the law fails to establish how the rule will be enforced. Similarly, the law reportedly doesn’t offer business owners liability protection should a gun-related problem happen at their building as laws in other states do.

John Elkington, whose Performa Entertainment manages the district, told the Daily News that many legislators who voted for the bill were from different parts of the state and may not understand the dangers of mixing guns and alcohol in a downtown setting.

“We live in a different city than many of the legislators who voted for this bill, who live in rural areas,” he said. “In many areas it may not be an issue. But in an urban area – a downtown urban area that primarily has establishments that serve more liquor than food – it becomes a huge problem.”

A recent example of such a problem occurred just outside the Beale Street district.

Five teens were shot when a gunman opened fire on a large crowd outside the Plush nightclub July 5.

A lawsuit seeking an injunction to the implementation of the new gun law was recently filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, although Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled against the suit.

A hearing has been set to discuss arguments that the gun law is constitutionally vague.