COLUMBIA -- Pistols on hips, South Carolina gun owners appear ready to join their Georgia counterparts at the bar.
The S.C. Senate approved a bill that would allow concealed weapon permit holders to bring their firearm into South Carolina bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, as long they don’t drink.
The S.C. House is likely to pass the legislation this month. Under the bill, S. 308, business owners would be allowed to post a no-guns sign on their establishment.
Regionally, Georgia has led the way on guns-in-bars.
In 2008, the state legislature allowed people to carry firearms into restaurants, as long as they didn’t drink while armed. Today it’s OK to bring guns into both restaurants and bars in Georgia — and partake of adult beverages.
“It is not against the law to drink while carrying in either place, provided that you have permission from the bar owner,” said Jerry Henry, executive director of GeorgiaCarry.Org, Inc.
“The only thing against guns and alcohol is that it is against the law to discharge a firearm if one is drunk,” he added.
During South Carolina’s ongoing debate over allowing firearms where alcohol is consumed, some Democrats tried to stop the loosening of the law, or at least limit the changes to come.
One of them was Sen. John Scott, a Democrat from Columbia.
“Alcohol and guns just don’t mix. There may be another family in there, and some persons end up in an altercation, and an innocent bystander could get killed,” said the lawmaker.
“But if you’re got the gun in your car, you’ve got a chance to cool off and possibly walk away from it all.”
Supporters of the change say it’s more secure and more convenient for a gun owner to keep his firearm on him when visiting a bar or restaurant than it is to leave the weapon in a parked automobile.
Scott said locking the weapon in the glove box of a locked automobile should be plenty secure.
Meanwhile, Henry of GeorgiaCarry.Org said his state hasn’t encountered the type of scene opponents warned about.
“We have had zero incidents of law abiding citizens being in any ‘O.K. Corral shootouts,’ as predicted by the gun prohibitionists,” he said.
Georgia’s southern neighbor has drawn more attention over gun violence lately. Still, the latest fatal shooting in Florida to capture national disbelief took place in a movie theater, not a bar. The alleged shooter objected to the victim’s texting. Popcorn was reportedly thrown, but no alcohol has been mentioned.
In Florida, guns in bars are still prohibited. And there are no bills pending like South Carolina’s.
“It’s definitely something we’d like to see,” said Sean Caranna, executive director of Florida Carry, of South Carolina’s proposal.
One reason? He pointed to the experience of Nikki Goeser, whose husband was fatally shot by a man in a bar in Tennessee. Goeser now crusades for expanding gun rights.
But the South Carolina senator believes legalizing firearms in bars invites more violence.
“Where are we going with this?” wondered Scott. “What message are we sending?”