By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It was after 2 a.m. when David Aller was thrown out of the Klub Cirok Nightclub & VIP Lounge for fighting. That’s when police say the 26-year-old man retrieved a loaded handgun from his car in the club parking lot and returned to threaten patrons.
Aller, who was charged with aggravated assault for the Nov. 11 incident, was also a handgun carry permit holder.
Ever since lawmakers opened serious consideration of a bill to allow permit holders to store firearms in their vehicles — no matter where they are parked — backers have maintained security won’t be threatened because gun permit holders are law-abiding citizens and unlikely to commit crimes.
Public records reviewed by AP show, however, that some incidents, like the one at Klub Cirok, have the potential to become violent when guns are drawn by permit holders in parking lots. And club promoter Joe Savage said the bill is misguided.
“If it’s at the Waffle House it’s one thing, but if it’s Cirok’s it’s another,” Savage told AP in the club’s parking lot. “You can’t just say across the board it’s going to be all right — because it’s not all right.
“If this was a church and they were all nuns and priests, then fine,” he said. “But that’s not what this is.”
Aller’s carry permit has been suspended while the charges are pending. The case has been bound over to the grand jury. His attorney, Ginny Foard, did not return a message seeking comment.
The bill has already passed the Senate and is scheduled for a House floor vote Thursday after sailing through committees in both chambers with minimal debate. Supporters are eager to avoid a repeat of last year’s drawn-out fight over the measure that uncomfortably pitched Republicans between their traditional allies in the gun and business lobbies.
The House GOP caucus leader, whom the National Rifle Association blamed for keeping the bill from gaining a floor vote last year, is no longer in the Legislature. Many lawmakers think Debra Maggart lost her primary election last year in large part because the NRA bankrolled efforts to defeat her in the Republican primary.
A 2010 law that allows people with permits to bring their guns into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol included a provision to allow management to post a firearms ban inside the property. The current bill would not give property owners the ability to post firearms bans in their parking lots.
Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville has said the bill reflects that the state’s nearly 400,000 handgun permit holders have gone through extensive background check and training requirements.
Public records obtained by AP show that 2,133 people have had their permits revoked or suspended for criminal charges or orders of protection over the last two years. Bill supporters downplay those statistics, saying they reflect a tiny minority that shouldn’t alter the course of the legislation.
House Democrats said they plan to introduce several amendments Thursday to the bill on the floor, led by one that would allow handgun carry permit holds to be armed in any area except those in which the property owner posts a ban.
“If you come on to my property, I should be able to have the choice whether I want you to bring a gun,” said Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville. “And if I’ve told you not to, there should be consequences.”
The Aller arrest isn’t the only example of parking lot altercations involving handgun carry permit holders. The Violence Policy Center has tracked cases where permit holders have been charged with serious crimes in parking lots, including:
— Henry Ray Coleman, who was convicted of second-degree murder for the 2009 shooting of an unarmed man outside in an argument over how close their sports utility vehicles were parked to each other in a busy Memphis shopping center. Both men had been drinking.
— Frank Graham, a former firefighter convicted of first-degree murder for the 2010 shooting death of his ex-girlfriend in the parking lot of the Memphis hospital where she worked as a nurse.
— Troy Whiteside , who has been charged with second-degree murder for fatally shooting of an unarmed Knoxville business rival 13 times in the parking lot of a clothing store. Whiteside’s attorneys have said he fired in self-defense.
Back at Nashville’s Klub Cirok, promoter Savage urged lawmakers to reconsider the blanket bill to allow permit holders to store weapons in their cars.
“Management and I don’t believe people should have that opportunity that on a premises like this, where people are under the influence of alcohol,” he said. “That’s just asking for trouble.”