Concealed guns allowed in bars, restaurants

Published 8:31 am Friday, July 2, 2010

FRANKLIN—Local restaurant and bar owners, and their patrons, are divided over the merits of a new state law that makes it legal for persons with concealed weapons permits to carry their guns into those establishments, provided they don’t consume alcohol.

The law passed by the General Assembly in February took effect on Thursday. It amends previous state law that banned gun owners from concealing weapons in restaurants or bars.

“We’re pretty confident that it won’t cause any problems at all,” Loren McGhee, shift manager at Overtime Sports Bar in Franklin, said Thursday. “It’s a small town and everybody knows each other. Everybody has a basic respect for moral conduct. I don’t think we’ll have a problem with it.”

Concealed weapon owners who violate the law by drinking alcohol in a restaurant or bar could be found guilty of a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

Federal, state and local law enforcement officers are exempt from the law.

On what measures the bar was taking to ensure patrons carrying concealed weapons weren’t also drinking, McGhee said, “We have a security firm that comes in and helps us out, runs our surveillance cameras. They keep an eye on the property for us.”

McGhee said she has a concealed weapons permit and carries her gun on occasion. She said she used to carry it all the time when working as a locksmith in Hampton, but would lock her gun in a floorboard safe in her van before going into a bar.

“I think it’s a good law,” McGhee said. “I think a gun society is a polite society. The people who have guns that are doing crazy things with them certainly aren’t going to have concealed weapons permits, be registered and have every little rule checked off. The people with permits aren’t the ones we have to be concerned with.”

Rick Holland of Suffolk, who was having lunch at Overtime and also has a concealed weapons permit, agreed.

“I think if a person needs to go inside somewhere and eat, and if they’ve got their gun with them, I don’t see why they couldn’t take it if they weren’t drinking,” Holland said. “I don’t see any problem with it.”

Lt. Tim Whitt of the Franklin City Police Department said the authorities didn’t see a problem with the law either.

“We haven’t had any issues with (concealed weapons) before, and I don’t expect us to have any issues with it now,” Whitt said Thursday. “All we can hope is that people will act responsibly and be responsible when carrying a firearm.”

Others weren’t thrilled with the new law.

“It’s ridiculous,” said David Rabil, owner of Fred’s Restaurant in downtown Franklin. “We try to keep our eyes open all the time. I don’t know what I could do differently if some bozo is dumb enough to bring a gun in here. It doesn’t make a bit of sense. The police don’t like it, and we sure don’t like it.”

Dave Zeher of Virginia Beach, who was at lunch with Holland, worried that having guns around alcohol could still be a lethal mixture.

“You’re walking into an establishment with a sidearm on, and you have people that are drinking,” Zeher said. “Sometimes alcohol causes people to act not in their normal way. If you don’t have a gun in your hands or on your side at the time it would be no trouble.”

Zeher drew a corollary to legislation that took effect on Dec. 1, which made it illegal to smoke in restaurants and bars in Virginia.

“If they want to smoke, they take it outside to other areas,” Zeher said. “That way it doesn’t infringe upon other people. I’m not against guns; I think every man should have the right to bear arms. But I don’t think they belong in a bar where there is alcohol or liquor.”