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Page last updated at 09:28 GMT, Monday, 13 July 2009 10:28 UK

Tennessee gun law divides opinion

By James Coomarasamy
BBC News, Nashville, Tennessee

Glock 9mm pistol
The new law would allow guns to be carried in pubs and restaurants

Following a recent series of high-profile shooting incidents in the United States, the southern state of Tennessee is changing its gun laws this week.

It is relaxing them.

If a last-minute legal challenge fails, from Tuesday, gun owners in the state will be allowed to carry their weapons in a lot more public places - including bars and restaurants.

I went to Nashville to find out what local residents thought about the proposed law change.

'Seconds count'

Nikki Goeser takes her Second Amendment right to bear arms very seriously.

One of Tennessee's 250,000 registered gun owners, she saw her husband, Ben, shot dead in front of her in April.

She believes her right was denied when she needed it most.

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Nikki Goeser says she could have stopped her husband's killer if she'd had her gun

Soon, Tennessee's bars and restaurants will no longer be off-limits for registered weapons.

State legislators - a quarter of whom own firearms - have passed a law allowing guns into bars and restaurants, but preventing their owners from buying alcohol.

For the bill's Democratic sponsor - State Senator Doug Jackson - it is a case of preserving the rights of individuals and those of individual states.

"People are fearful about tomorrow. They feel insecure. And the Second Amendment right is something that they cherish and it's a means of protecting themselves and their family and defending what they have. It provides security in troubled times."

But on the streets of Nashville, even some staunch defenders of Second Amendment rights fear that the Music City is about to become Dodge City. And that mixing guns and alcohol is a recipe for disaster.

'Scared'

Nashville restaurateur Randy Rayburn is anything but cool about the idea of his customers having guns.

He is leading a last-minute legal challenge to the law - to protect his barmen.

"Yes they're scared, I'm scared, my wife is scared for our personal safety."

He has done what restaurant owners are permitted to do - placed a sign in his window, saying "no guns allowed".

But he is worried that the sign will not be enough to prevent people taking the new law into their own hands.

I don't care so much about a bad guy's life... If they choose that, and I am armed I know what I'm doing, I will try to stop them.
Nikki Goeser

"We don't need vigilantism inside my business," he says. "I'm a gun owner, I have a gun at my home, but I keep it there, not at a public place where many people's lives can be threatened.

And he has support from the city's police chief, Ronal Serpas, who does not believe that people who walk into bars with guns will steer clear of the shot glasses.

"If you think about how alchohol influences the choices people make... I don't believe people are not going to drink and have guns, because I know they drink and drive," he says.

"What process is going through their mind as it's clouded by alcohol? [They're] trying to do a good thing, but they have NO training, NO experience, NO time for reflective thought, and their minds are consumed by alcohol - it doesn't make sense."

But for Nikki - and other law-abiding gun owners - what does not make sense is being allowed to have a gun, but being prevented from using it when it counts

"I hear people say all the time, guns are made specifically to kill," she tells me.

"My answer to that is: 'yes a gun can kill, but in the correct hands, it can be used to save innocent lives'. I don't care so much about a bad guy's life. I'm sorry, I don't. They make the choice to be evil, that's their choice. If they choose that, and I am armed I know what I'm doing, I will try to stop them."

And soon she will be allowed to - in a lot more places.



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