Ohio Bars Open Doors Today to Gun Owners

The signs outside Shooters Bar and Grill in Galion, Ohio, are clear: “No weapons allowed.”

Owner Vicki Bash says that won’t change as Ohio’s controversial new gun law takes effect today. It allows people licensed to carry concealed weapons to take them into taverns, hotels, restaurants and other places where liquor is served.  But those carrying guns are not allowed to drink.  And taverns, such as Shooters, can still keep weapons out as long as they post signs banning them.

“People aren’t supposed to drink and drive either,” Bash said. “But they do.”

She worries that bartenders have no way of knowing who is carrying a weapon so they must rely entirely on customers’ following the law. “I’m not against guns,” Bash said, but “alcohol creates stupidity.”

But other bars, including the Crazy Fox in Bucyrus, Ohio, don’t have a problem with concealed weapons as long as their owners don’t drink. The law passed despite objections from the Ohio Restaurant Association, which represents more than 5,000 mostly independent establishments.

“Alcohol and guns are typically not a good mix,” association spokesman Jarrad Clabaugh said.

Ohio is the latest state to allow gun owners to take their concealed weapons into bars. In Tennessee, which passed a similar law last year, Nikki Goeser has been a strong advocate, saying, “You know what, we need to be protected because the bad guys are going to carry their guns.”

In 2009, before Tennessee passed its new law, her husband, Ben, was shot and killed inside a Nashville tavern. “I had to leave my legal, permitted weapon locked in my vehicle that night,” she said. “And I’ll probably wonder for the rest of my life if I could have saved Ben.”

But many bartenders and waitresses are wary of the new law.  ”After a couple of drinks, they get their beer muscles and start swinging fists,” Nashville cocktail waitress Jessi Morrow said, adding that she fears guns add more danger to such volatile situations.

Waiter Chris Reeves isn’t comforted by the law’s prohibition against drinking by gun-toters. “Maybe he’s not drinking. But another guy has had several and has an attitude.” he said. “You could have multiple shots scattered in a matter of seconds.”

In Tennessee, Ray Friedman, who opposes guns in bars and restaurants, publishes a website listing which establishments ban them. “It’s tough for restaurants to be put in that position, but in fact they do have to make a choice,” he said.

But gun advocate Goeser said she is safer in a bar or restaurant, knowing her .38 Smith & Wesson Special is tucked into a hidden sleeve of her purse.  “Do I feel like I could stop someone from hurting innocent people?” she asked. “I think so.”