York County leaders tout new law to allow guns in bars

jzou@heraldonline.comFebruary 1, 2014 

Local legislators who favor allowing people with concealed weapons permits to carry guns into restaurants and bars say the law would not create a danger because it applies to law-abiding citizens.

The state General Assembly last month passed a law that allows anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry firearms into restaurants and bars. Establishments have the right to forbid weapons by posting signs. Also, any permit holder with a gun would not be allowed to drink alcohol in an establishment.

The bill has been sent to Gov. Nikki Haley, who has indicated she will sign it.

“It’s a very good bill,” said State Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill. “It ought to be a welcome relief.”

Norman said the legislation applies only to law-abiding citizens, not to the criminals who already illegally bring firearms into businesses.

State Rep. Gary Simrill, a Rock Hill Republican, agreed with Norman. He called the law a “streamlining” measure that would remove “encumbrances” from those certified to carry concealed firearms.

The State Law Enforcement Division says the state had more than 229,000 active permits at the end of 2013.

“I want to see more streamlining,” Simrill said. “I think it’s important not only that we respect the Second Amendment, but in these instances, we don’t stymie those law-abiding citizens who have gone through the process.”

Simrill said he has a concealed weapons permit, and he carries his Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380 semi-automatic “half the time.” Under current laws, those carrying concealed weapons secure their firearms in a locked compartment in a vehicle before entering a bar or restaurant that serves alcohol, regardless of their intention to drink.

“We’re talking about people who have passed a background check,” said Simrill of permit holders. “I see it as not a dangerous move at all.”

Customer Safety and Self-Policing

But the owner of two local eateries said he opposes the law. Daniel Holmes, owner of Towne Tavern in Fort Mill and Wings University in Rock Hill, said the bill is the “most ridiculous thing” he’s heard.

Holmes referred to a recent incident in Tampa, Fla., where a retired police officer shot and killed a fellow moviegoer in a theater after a confrontation over texting.

“You’re just going to waltz into my restaurant with a gun on your hip?” said Holmes. “We’re going to have to police this.”

The owner plans to post signs on the doors of both his establishments that read: “No conceivable weapons allowed.”

State Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, said he thinks the bill applies “adequate safeguards” to a population that already follows the rules. He also noted that penalties for violating the bill, which could include fines, jail time, and permit revocation, are stiff deterrents.

Mark Bollinger of the Rock Hill Police Department said the department has yet to officially study the proposal, but he said the “impetus” will be placed on businesses.

“They’re going to have to eyeball people and then call us,” said Bollinger. “It’s not like we can go in frisking everybody.”

York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant wrote in a statement that enforcement likely will not change based on the law aside from charging those who illegally carry firearms into businesses with opt-out signs.

“Obviously, weapons and alcohol together can cause concern,” wrote Bryant. “However, from a law enforcement perspective, we have far more people killed by drunk drivers leaving these establishments than we do people killed in gun fights by CWP holders.”

Norman predicts that most businesses will not opt-out. “Why would I go to the effort to ... say everybody’s welcome except anybody who carries a gun?” he said. “As an owner it could deter business.”

For Holmes, who described his restaurants as being all about “family, family, family,” the proposed law is about keeping his clientele as well as his staffs, which include teens, safe. “Is my staff not as important as airport people?” he asked.

Two other Rock Hill eateries that serve alcohol declined to be interviewed for the story, but both said they planned to use the signs to opt out of the law.

Mike Thar, general manager of Millstone Pizza and Taphouse in downtown Rock Hill, said that the issue has come up at several management meetings, but the business is holding off on a decision until the bill officially becomes law and staff members have consulted with the eatery’s owners.

“Guest safety, that comes first no matter what,” said Thar. “From there we’ll evaluate the law and decide what to do.”

Jie Jenny Zou •  803-329-4062

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