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Of shots in bars …

This post is by SmartBlog on Restaurants and Restaurant SmartBrief contributor Janet Forgrieve.

Restaurants in a growing number of states have become the latest testing grounds for citizens on both sides of the gun debate. Tennessee recently became the fourth state to allow customers with open-carry permits to bring their guns into bars as well as restaurants that serve alcohol, although the law prohibits gun-toting patrons to drink or carry their weapons while under the influence, and allows privately owned establishments to prohibit firearms. The state Legislature overrode the governor’s May veto of the bill, as it did last year with an earlier bill that the courts later struck down as too vague.

Eighteen states have laws on the books that allow guns in restaurants but not bars; the rules are less clear in 20 other states, where the laws don’t address the issue. In light of recent Supreme Court decisions strengthening the rights of gun owners under the Second Amendment, pro-open carry interests interpret the lack of a prohibition as permission to carry their guns into eateries and bars, unless establishments posted “no guns” signs.

Earlier this year, pro-gun interests began testing the limits of state laws and chain restaurant policies by heading into cafes and bistros armed with their properly permitted weapons in plain view, as part of a state-by-state effort to expand the number and types of places where licensed gun owners are permitted to openly carry their weapons. Starbucks stores from Virginia to California seemed to be particular targets for gun owners. The coffee chain, while not weighing in on the issue of citizens carrying guns, declined to prohibit them in states where customers are allowed to bear their arms in public places.

Restaurants, as always, find themselves in the middle of the debate and facing the impossible task of pleasing everyone as they determine whether to create a policy outlawing guns or allow permitted patrons to dine while wearing their weapons. A New York Times story earlier this month quoted bar patrons on both sides of the issue and reported that several restaurant owners said privately that they didn’t allow guns in their establishments, but were on the fence about publicly posting signs barring any paying patrons from their places.

In response to the new law in Tennessee, one of the state’s citizens has created a nonprofit called Gun Free Dining in Tennessee. The site aims to compile a comprehensive database of the state’s eateries, noting which establishments have decided to post “no guns” signs.

Does your state allow guns in establishments that serve alcohol? Have you decided whether to ban weapons in your establishment? Tell us about it.