Many Columbia bars, restaurants say ‘no’ to concealed weapons

jself@thestate.comFebruary 3, 2014 

"There is simply no good that can come from having guns in bars," Matt Shmanske, the owner of three drinking and dining establishments, says.

TRACY GLANTZ — tglanzt@thestate.com

Many Columbia bar and restaurant owners say guns and alcohol do not mix.

So, when Gov. Nikki Haley signs a bill into law allowing South Carolinians with concealed-weapons permits to carry firearms into bars and restaurants, signs prohibiting concealed weapons will go up in many business windows.

The question is not whether people licensed to carry concealed weapons are responsible and trustworthy, says Matt Shmanske, a 34-year-old concealed-weapons permit holder and owner of a restaurant and two bars near Five Points.

“(The gun) can get away from you,” Shmanske said. “Other people could take your gun and use it against you. Simply no good can come from having guns in bars.”

Shmanske has ordered signs prohibiting concealed weapons for the Moosehead Saloon and the Thirsty Parrot in Five Points and his Devine Street restaurant, Burger Tavern 77.

The gun-in-bars bill, debated in the House and Senate last year, received final legislative approval last month. After it is ratified, it will go to Gov. Haley for her signature.

The bill would allow patrons to carry licensed concealed weapons into restaurants or bars as long as they do not drink alcohol.

But businesses do not have to allow guns on their property. They can opt out by posting signs prohibiting concealed weapons. Also, patrons carrying guns must leave the business if asked.

The bill also made some changes to the state’s concealed-weapons law, doing away with a requirement that training must take at least eight hours to complete. Under the rule change, military and law enforcement veterans show proof of training and get their permits faster.

Supporters of the bill say it simply expands gun rights for responsible, well-trained gun owners, allowing them to eat dinner in a restaurant without leaving an unsupervised gun in their vehicle.

‘My concern ... is outside’

Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland, a restaurant owner, said he will not post signs prohibiting concealed weapons in his restaurant, Pawleys Front Porch on Harden Street.

“Our struggle is not our patrons,” Finlay said. “My concern with the safety of my clients is outside the restaurant, not inside the restaurant with concealed-weapons holders. It’s the unlawful folks outside.”

What is great about the legislation, Finlay added, is restaurants and bars can opt out, prohibiting firearms on their property.

Down the street, at Yesterday’s, owner Duncan MacRae said he thinks allowing concealed weapons where alcohol is served is “crazy.”

“I was in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, and we weren’t allowed to have our weapons in the officers’ club, where they serve alcohol,” said MacRae, a self-described “big gun advocate.”

“They ought to be left in their cars or at home. Weapons and drinking don’t mix.”

Across town, in the city’s Vista entertainment district, some restaurants also say they will be posting no-gun signs.

“I don’t think it is a good law,” said Maggie Groff, a 2nd Amendment supporter and manager of Nonnah’s, a Gervais Street restaurant.

Whether a sign is posted or not, Groff said the changes to the law will increase the likelihood of people bringing firearms into businesses that serve alcohol, especially since penalties for violations will be less severe.

“Posting a sign is basically worthless,” she said.

Penalties for breaking the law include up to a $2,000 fine, up to two years in prison or both — down from three years. A concealed-weapons permit holder also would lose his or her license for five years, down from a permanent revocation.

‘Couldn’t be poorer timing’

Despite the lack of enthusiasm from Columbia businesses, the S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association steered clear of taking a position on the bill because its members were split on the issue, said John Durst, the association’s president and chief executive.

But Brian Truex, owner of CWP Compliance, a sign-making company in Myrtle Beach, said he expects a lot of businesses to put up signs. Truex told the Columbia Free Times recently that he printed 1,500 signs in preparation for the increased demand that he expects.

On Monday, Truex was in Columbia consulting with a nightclub about posting signs. He said businesses, mostly bars, are reaching out to him about getting signs installed.

Kelly Whitlock, who owns a pub in the Vista and TLC Sports Bar near Williams-Brice Stadium, said her employees asked her to ban concealed weapons.

“Our bartenders already have to know the blood-alcohol (level) of our patrons, but they expect us to figure out if someone has a gun or not and if they’re drinking or not? We’re going to prohibit it at our bars,” Whitlock said.

Jon Sears, who owns Jake’s, Pavlov’s and The Bird Dog in Five Points, said he sees no reason why anyone needs to take a gun into a business that serves alcohol.

It is not the patron with a concealed-weapons permit that he worries about, said Sears, who like Shmanske also is licensed to carry a concealed weapon. “It’s the proximity” of the weapons in places where people are drinking alcohol. “I’m always trying to keep the situation as safe as possible,” he said.

“One bad incident, that’s just so catastrophic, that takes away from the people who are not causing problems,” he said.

Sears said last year’s shooting of Martha Childress, a University of South Carolina student, is still very much on the minds of business owners in the Five Points district.

“It’s a state law, and they’re not just thinking about Five Points, but it couldn’t be poorer timing,” said Sears. “I was almost floored when I heard this news. I couldn’t think of something we need less.”

Reach Self at (803) 771-8658.

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