Back home in Tennessee, my neighbors are clinging (quite vehemently) to their guns and religion. President Barack Obama got slammed for this stereotypical description of rural America, but I live on the front lines of Appalachia (to quote another 2008 candidate, “I can see it from my porch.”) and the picture he painted is accurate, even a bit understated.
The widely popular 2008 state legislation allowing concealed weapons in Tennessee’s state and national parks was followed last month by an equally celebrated law permitting concealed weapons in bars and restaurants. As of July 14, any God-fearing (is there any other kind?) gun owner in Tennessee can decide to carry a gun down to their local haunt or IHOP — just in case.
In case of what? Bad service? Flat beer? No more country ham or biscuits on the buffet?
Many Tennesseans like myself see this latest expression of the right to bear arms as a surefire way to ignite deadly bar fights. The law’s supporters strongly disagree, pointing out a provision in the statute stating that those with concealed weapons will not be allowed to drink alcohol. Well, of course, the guy with the hidden pistol will be sipping soda water at the bar all night. So, rest easy Mom and Dad. If your nice family dinner at the local steakhouse is disrupted by a gunfight, at least a drunk won’t be firing the shots.
Wrong. The fact that these weapons can be concealed completely eliminates the assurance of the “no alcohol” policy. Bartenders are generally not going to frisk their customers before serving them pitchers of Natty Light. In addition, local Tennesseans — the voice behind this ruling in the first place — rarely take heed of the fine print of the laws set in Nashville. The main point — guns are now allowed in bars — will get through to those gun-wielding yahoos long before the “no alcohol” part ever registers.
Since some Tennessee bar and restaurant owners are a tad bit concerned about having weapons in their businesses (“the customer is always right” takes on a whole new meaning when the customer is holding a .45), some are installing metal detectors for safety. Hey, it’s only fair. Tennessee kids have to walk through detectors to get into public school each day, so why not make the adults walk through them when they go out to eat? Still others — though not the majority — are posting signs that expressly forbid weapons on the premises.
Many USC students would find this more than a little absurd. Living part of the year in Los Angeles, we’ve watched enough news coverage of deadly shootings to understand why allowing concealed weapons in parks where children play isn’t a bright idea.
So why should we care about a silly gun law or two in the land of NASCAR?
Well, for starters, living in Los Angeles makes us believe that the rest of the country either thinks like us or wants to be us. Any law putting guns within shooting distance of protected animals in national parks has to be a joke, right? Not true. In the South, you don’t mess with a guy’s guns or religion (multiple guns, one religion) and flag or freedoms (one flag, multiple freedoms). And in case you hadn’t heard, Tennessee also has a roadkill law. You find it on the road, you can eat it. But don’t hunt using your car or pickup as a weapon. There’s a fine for that.
Second, any state’s gun laws — even in a state as geographically and culturally distant from California as Tennessee — could have an impact on us. If you’re lucky enough to score Bonnaroo tickets some year, take a road trip to visit Elvis’ grave at Graceland or drive coast-to-coast on I-40, you’ll be in Tennessee. That means the girl sitting next to you in that Waffle House could be hiding a handgun in her hoodie, or the jerk hitting on you at a club could settle the next argument in a blaze of bullets.
Tennessee is not alone in allowing concealed weapons — in fact, it is the latest in a group of states to legalize them. State laws that put concealed guns in public parks, bars and restaurants are worth our time and attention. There’s a big, old country out there, and we should feel free — and safe — enough to explore it all.
Cassidy Duckett is a sophomore majoring in narrative studies.