Bill would allow concealed guns in restaurants

Alex Sirney -- March 6th, 2010

Concealed gun in barThe Virginia Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would remove the restrictions prohibiting gun owners with concealed carry licenses from carrying in restaurants and would allow police officers to drink while carrying.

The current law forbids concealed carry in restaurants, though it allows guns to be carried openly. It is legal to drink while carrying openly, though intoxication is illegal for all citizens. Senate Bill 334, referred to as the “Guns-in-bars” bill, would change that to allow concealed carry in restaurants, though forbidding those carrying concealed firearms from drinking. The bill will amend Section 18.2-308 of the Code of Virginia (deletions are struck out and additions are in bold):

JJ3. No person shall carry who carries a concealed handgun onto the premises of any restaurant or club as defined in Section 4.1-100 for which a license to sell and serve alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption has been granted by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board under Title 4.1 of the Code of Virginia; however, nothing herein may consume an alcoholic beverage while on the premises. A person who carries a concealed handgun onto the premises of such a restaurant or club and consumes alcoholic beverages is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. ?[ A person who becomes intoxicated while carrying a concealed handgun on the premises of such a restaurant or club is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. ?] ?However, nothing in this subsection shall prohibit any sworn apply to a federal, state, or local law-enforcement officer. [ or any retired law-enforcement officer who meets the definition of a “qualified retired law-enforcement officer” pursuant to 18 U.S.C. ? 926C and is carrying the identification required by such statute? ] . from carrying a concealed handgun on the premises of such restaurant or club or any owner or event sponsor or his employees from carrying a concealed handgun while on duty at such restaurant or club if such person has a concealed handgun permit.
Bills with similar provisions were passed but vetoed under Gov. Kaine, but Gov. McDonnell is expected to sign the bill into law. There are officially no bars in Virginia – all establishments serving alcohol must have at least 45 percent of their sales come from food and non-alcoholic drinks. Restaurant owners will retain the right to put in place their own policies restricting open or concealed carry in their establishment.

Local restaurant owners and managers reacted with caution to the change in the law, expressing concerns over enforcement and safety.

“Personally, I think it’s a bad idea to allow citizens [with concealed weapons] into places where people are consuming alcohol,” Sean Pugh, co-owner of the Joshua Wilton House, said. “It’s a bad idea.” Pugh is active in the Downtown Dining Alliance, and said that they have not yet discussed the implications of the law.

“Different restaurants are going to have a different feel about [the law],” he said. “We’re going to be less likely to encounter an issue than some place people go to drink and party.”

Chris Clark, owner of the Artful Dodger, and Mickey Arafaine, general manager of the Blue Nile – both popular nightspots – expressed concerns over security, though both expected patrons to act responsibly.

“I want to believe that [the law] will not affect anything. People are generally aware of their level of safety and we [at the Artful Dodger] feel that we provide that,” Clark said.

Arafaine said, “I don’t know how much it will change in practice. Unless you do something, no one will even know you have [a concealed gun].”

“I don’t think people will react to it unless there’s an incident.”

Neither Arafaine nor Clark anticipated adding any additional security measures beyond what they have currently in place. Neither has had any serious incidents with customers carrying guns, though both have asked patrons to leave in different circumstances. They both said the change would increase the need for staff to be more aware of who was in the restaurant.

The question of security is tied closely to the law’s enforcement.

“I think the biggest problem is enforcing it. What’s stopping any person from bringing a gun into a bar right now?” Craig Moore, owner of the Local Chop and Grill House, said. “How do you know someone with a concealed gun is drinking?”

“You’ve got to be caught to enforce it.”

He said that he would not be searching patrons because it is “a tremendous invasion of privacy.”

“I hope this doesn’t lead to other things where the burden is on the establishment,” Moore said. Arafaine expressed similar sentiments.

“The burden is on the restaurant and it should be on the person,” she said.

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizen’s Defense League, Inc., a gun rights lobbying group, said that the security concerns aren’t anything new or different.

“Restaurant owners always have the trespass onus on them,” he said, calling the security issue a trespass issue at its root. “It’s nothing unusual.”

According to Van Cleave, Virginia banned concealed carry in restaurants in 1995, and with the passage of this bill would join approximately 40 states that currently allow concealed carry in restaurants and bars.

This bill will give restaurant owners more options, Van Cleave said. He has had experiences where, as the holder of a concealed gun license, he has had to carry openly in restaurants to comply with the current law. He sees this as potentially distracting to other customers, and has been asked to conceal his gun by restaurant owners, which he legally had to refuse to do.

“This empowers restaurant owners to make their own policy,” he said.

His focus on the law’s application was on scenarios where license holders were dining in restaurants. He said late-night drinking scenarios were unlikely.

“One can sit down and picture all kinds of things that could happen, but we have to look at practice,” he said. “Are permit holders going into that environment in practice? I don’t think so.”

“One should not strip away our freedoms because of what might happen.”

Lori Haas, spokesperson for the Virginia Center for Public Safety, a pro gun control lobby group, argued strongly against the bill.

“Guns and alcohol don’t mix,” she said. “A small, vocal group of gun owners wants any gun, any time.” She also expressed concerns about enforcement and said that the VCPS supports responsible gun ownership and gun control laws.

“Restrictions are not mutually exclusive with the second amendment,” she said.

Both supporters and detractors will soon take a back seat to reality, however, once Gov. McDonnell signs the bill into law as expected. What reaction can we expect from the Harrisonburg community once the law goes into effect?

Note: Local gun rights activist and NRA member Jon Ritenour, representatives from Jack Brown’s, Finnigan’s Cove, Clementine, Dave’s Taverna, the Downtown Dining Alliance, the Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association and the Harrisonburg Police Department were unavailable for comment as of posting. Update expected early next week.

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103 Responses to “Bill would allow concealed guns in restaurants”

  1. Deb SF says:

    Sorry, Dave, but we’re back. Nice to visit the great cities of the world, but even better to come home to the wonderful one we live in. One of the best parts of visiting, though, is looking at the US from an outsiders eyes. Maybe you should take your wife and start a bucket list- the great cities of the world to visit and begin making reservations.

    I was delighted to find, despite numerous news stories to the contrary since 9/11, the smoothest re-entry to the states ever I’ve encountered, with the passport guy and the customs guy both offering warm smiles and and a cordial “welcome back”. Less than 30 minutes from gate to parking lot. Well, done Dulles! Only machine guns we saw were in France- in airports and at the museums.

  2. Olivia says:

    It’s funny to me if anyone assumes there are not concealed weapons in restaurants with you already.

    Additionally, if you are responsible enought to have a concealed weapon permit, I shall assume you are also responsible enough to carry that weapon while you dine.

  3. Emmy says:

    I don’t think anyone assumes there aren’t Olivia. I also don’t necessarily trust that just because someone says you are responsible enough to have one that it means you are. My father has/had one and to me that is just frightening.

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