The front page of todays Tennessean headlines a story that Nashville bar owners plan to ban holders of a Tennessee Handgun Carry Permit from entering their establishment with their weapons. Much talk about a fictional problem. Before continuing, and to be transparent as our President likes to say, I am a long time holder of a Tennessee Handgun Carry Permit, a life time member of the NRA, a lifetime member of Safari Club International, an avid hunter, member of the Tennessee Association for Justice (formerly the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association) and a member of the American Association for Justice. I consider myself a personal injury lawyer who only represents plaintiffs.
As such I would be approached by an individual wishing to sue someone or some bar if they were shot in a bar by a person carrying a gun with a Tennessee Handgun Carry Permit. Would I take the case. Probably not. Are these cases winnable? Probably not in Tennessee. The bar owners are quoted as being fearful of the liability. A little hypocritical would you say from someone who sells alcohol and then watches their patrons drive away under the influence.
Some background on the issue is necessary. Tennessee is known as a "shall issue" state. That is if the applicant meets the requirements of the Handgun Carry Permit statute, the Department of Safety MUST issue the permit. That statute is TCA 39-17-1351. It requires among other things that the applicant must have taken a course that includes both classroom study and range time to establish that the applicant can safely use a handgun. Tennessee’s requirements are some of the strictess in the nation. Its permit is widely accepted in many states as a result of the training requirements. As a matter of fact only 15 states do not honor Tennessee’s permit. Look at this list compiled by the Tennessee Department of Safety. Another good source is this website.
That training is what will cause the courts to throw out these cases. The basic defense is that the carrying of the pistol or allowing the carry in the bar is NOT the proximate cause of the injury. Several years ago a tragic event occurred in Memphis. An underage youth was an avid hunter. He had a number of guns and had received training in shooting and safe gun handling. He had taken a Hunter safety course when he was in the sixth grade. Although under age he purchased ammo illegally for his 44 magnum hunting revolver. One night he heard a noise outside the patio door. He shot through the door an killed one of his friends. A lawsuit was brought against the owners of the gun store that had sold the minor the ammo. The Tennessee Court of Appeals held that as a matter of law the store was not responsible. It stated:
Under the uncontroverted facts in the instant case, defendant’s sale of the ammunition to Cannon, at most, created a condition by which the unfortunate incident was made possible. The direct and proximate cause of the incident was the action of Cannon in firing a gun at a supposed intruder.
I believe this is exactly what would happen in the bar case. It is not the action or inaction of the bar owner letting a patron carry. The injury by shooting would be the firing of the handgun by the permit holder.
Now for a little practical advice. As a permit holder what am I doing in the bar? If I am carrying I am not drinking. Why? Its illegal and a Class A Misdemeanor. Check out TCA 39-17-1321. It says:
Notwithstanding whether a person has a permit issued pursuant to § 39-17-1315 or § 39-17-1351, it is an offense for a person to possess a handgun while under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance.
(b) A violation of this section is a Class A misdemeanor.
If I am drinking I am not carrying. No not even one drink.