Politics is dominated by sound bites meant to generate emotion, not rational discourse. One of the most dominant sound bites in recent North Carolina politics is that the law now allows people to carry "guns in bars." Upon hearing those three words, "guns in bars," people recoil in horror. The very idea that North Carolina is full of bars where people are packing heat is enough to make tourists avoid the state altogether. However, when one compares the old gun law with the new one, things make perfect sense.
On October 1st, North Carolina's absolute ban on handguns in all restaurants serving alcohol expired. That evening, I just happened to go into such a restaurant with a friend and fellow concealed weapons permit holder. Like me, she is an opponent of a statewide government-imposed ban. Our experience in the restaurant/bar that evening may sound amusing to most readers. But it actually sheds light on why the expired gun law left a lot to be desired.
As we were walking into the somewhat upscale restaurant/bar a group of guys sat on the patio and gawked at my friend as we passed. That's understandable. She is an actress and a model and she's at least three standard deviations above the mean of physical attractiveness. That kind of thing happens to her all the time. It was no big deal. In fact, I thought it was amusing. If she were more than a friend then I might not have been so amused. But that's beside the point. (Keep reading. There's a free quiz and a chance for a government handout at the end of the column).
After we sat at the bar and talked for a couple of hours, a group of older men came in and ordered drinks - obviously not their first drinks of the evening. One of the older gentlemen (and I use the term loosely) was noticeably staring from across the bar. Of course, he was staring at my actress friend, not me. Nothing eventful happened and we finished our drinks and left. For the record, hers was an ice water and mine was a Ranger IPA.
I’ll never know what it's like to be an attractive single woman who travels and eats out a lot. But that brings me to the issue. My actress friend who is a concealed permit holder (and who never drinks alcohol) isn't always accompanied by someone. She travels a lot and she often goes into restaurants alone. That means she's often in the position of walking across a parking lot to her car alone. Should she have to leave her weapon in her car simply because she went into an establishment where others might be drinking? Or should the laws be modified to let businesses decide instead of government deciding for them? These are the issues. To address them, it helps to consider three general categories of establishments that serve liquor.
1. Restaurant/bars where there is frequent drunkenness and occasional violence.
2. Restaurant/bars where there is occasional drunkenness but not violence.
3. Restaurants where there is alcohol but no drunkenness or violence.
The first type of restaurant/bar is easy to deal with. If the government relaxes the ban on handguns in bars then such a business still has a right to post a sign saying "no handguns." If there is a history of brawls in the establishment then there is little chance the owner will refrain from posting such a sign. In the absence of a flat-out government ban on handgun possession in such places, there is still civil liability for owners who chose to allow them. And, obviously, concealed weapons permit holders are the kinds of people who have the good sense to avoid such places. They don't need a sign to trigger their avoidance instincts, please pardon the pun.
The third type of restaurant/bar listed above is also easy to deal with. If I'm going into Moe's Southwestern Grill for a lunchtime burrito, there's really no need to pack heat. It's not like the guys shouting "Welcome to Moe's" are all that frightening to me. But that's not the point. The point is that those who are carrying before entering such establishments have no real reason to take a trip to the car to dispose of their firearms. There will be no drunken brawl in Moe's. But these establishments are open after dark. So it’s best to have your firearm on you as you traverse the parking lot as opposed to having it waiting for you in your locked truck. Surely, liberals really cannot think they are saving the world by banning firearms from such establishments. Keep reading and I promise I'll stop calling you "Surely."
It's the second type of restaurant/bar listed above that poses the most difficult questions for owners and patrons. If there is no history of violence at the bar (but there are people getting drunk) then there is still potential liability. Furthermore, patrons who know of no violence at the bar (but see people getting drunk there) might not like the idea that the bar allows guns. Thus, they may decide to stop going there, which may, in turn, provide a financial incentive for the owner to ban guns voluntarily. In other words, the free market may well dictate the very same result the government wants. But the owners have a choice. And so do the patrons who are not forced to doing anything by government fiat.
Throughout all the bad discourse in the public debate over the "guns in bars" issue, a major point has been obscured; namely that there is still absolutely no right to carry for those who have even a single drop of alcohol in their system. That absolute rule applies to the constable and citizen alike.
To be fair, local advocates of gun control were right about something when they raised the "guns in bars" issue earlier this year. They predicted that after the new gun laws took effect in October there would be a drastic increase in gun violence in the downtown bar district of my hometown Wilmington, North Carolina. Unfortunately, that prediction has indeed come to pass.
But the downtown Wilmington violence has taken a slightly different form than the gun grabbers anticipated. For one thing, the shootings have taken place quite literally in the streets of downtown Wilmington, not inside of bars. Furthermore, the disputes have revolved around the distribution of drugs, not the consumption of alcohol.
Perhaps most importantly, none of this recent violence has been perpetrated by 5'6" actress/models who seek to protect themselves from sexual assault by getting concealed weapons permits. It has been perpetrated by young males whose fathers have been replaced by government welfare checks. No one wants to talk about that unpleasant reality. That's the real reason the discussion is dominated by sound bites.