Editorial: No need for guns in bars and restaurants

New state law that permits concealed weapons in alcohol-serving establishments makes us all less safe.

Hilton Head Island PacketFebruary 16, 2014 

 Imagine walking into a bar and seeing a man choking a woman. As a concealed-weapons permit holder, you pull out your gun and yell for the man to stop.

He does not. And you honestly begin to fear for the woman’s life, her eyes rolling back into her head. 

You shoot the perpetrator, believing you’re saving the life of a fellow citizen in desperate need.

But what you don’t know is a lot. Moments before your entrance, the woman had stabbed the man with a knife. His actions were in self-defense, an effort to subdue her rage. And the knife that would have clued you into the situation lays hidden in the dim light of the bar.

Your good deed has resulted in someone’s death — and a great deal of legal trouble for you.

Many attorneys, police officers and even those who have taken the state-required class to get a concealed-weapons permit, say that in the vast majority of cases, pulling out your gun in a public place is a bad idea. 

Too much information is unknown. 

Too much is at risk. 

Too much can be lost by a good person trying to do the right thing.

In a similar vein, we believe our state’s concealed-weapons permit holders are good, law-abiding people who have rightfully submitted to and passed background checks and passed the required safety course to obtain their permits. They are our neighbors, our friends and our family who want to protect themselves and others from harm. 

But a recently-passed state law, allowing those with concealed-weapons permits to carry their guns into bars and restaurants makes them — as well as the unarmed — less safe and introduces endless scenarios where bad situations can turn deadly.

The law, sponsored by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, is supposedly meant to increase convenience. Permit holders can carry their weapons into restaurants and bars that serve alcohol rather than leaving them in their vehicles where they are easy targets for thieves. The practice is allowed as long as the carrier of the weapon doesn’t drink while in the establishment and as long as no sign is posted, prohibiting guns. 

The problem is the increase in convenience pales in comparison to the new dangers created. First off, permit holders must still leave their guns behind when entering schools, churches and any place that posts a sign prohibiting guns. Take a look next time you’re out and about town. A surprisingly number of places have the signs. 

We doubt any great degree of enhanced convenience will result from the new law.  And some local bar owners have already said they plan to post the signs because allowing weapons around those who are drinking alcohol is a dangerous proposal. Ditto.

Even if permit holders refrain from drinking (and there’s no way to ensure compliance) others in these establishments are not bound by any such rule. 

And let’s face it. A lot of people go into bars for one purpose: to get drunk. (A handful of senators attempted to make the bill a bit less ridiculous by amending it so that guns would only be allowed in alcohol-serving establishments until midnight. But the House balked at the change.) 

So now, guns are allowed in bars at any hour. And you can see how this quickly can turn into trouble. Some inebriated bar-goers will get cocky. They will want to fight. They will want to grab the gun of someone else and cause trouble. 

And it won’t just be trouble for the gun owner and the troublemaker. Patrons sitting nearby — even patrons sitting hundreds of yard away — will be at risk. It probably won’t happen often. But once will be too many times.

Somewhere in lawmakers’ desire to increase gunowners’ rights, the right of all citizens to enjoy an evening out without fear of a weapon coming onto the scene has been trounced. True, guns are probably carried into our eateries and bars already by those who do not heed the law. But there’s a difference between a reckless few, flaunting the rules and making us all less safe, and our elected representatives passing laws that introduce unnecessary danger.

Even more disturbing, Gov. Nikki Haley has said she supports a Senate bill that would make it legal for most South Carolinians to carry guns, whether concealed or carried in the open, without a permit or the training currently required by state law. That likely means we’re in for a long session of gun-friendly bills intended to erode remaining gun restrictions.

 The S.C. General Assembly has done our state a disservice, making establishments less safe. Lawmakers may build on the work in coming months. Let’s hope our assessment of the situation is wrong.  

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