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Legislators still consider guns in bars

By Andrea Kelly
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, April 14, 2005
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PHOENIX - Legislators are continuing to debate a statewide hot topic involving what some say is the clash of two rights: the right to bear arms and the right to public safety and welfare, as these issues come together in a proposal to allow guns in bars.

A bill at the state Legislature would change the law, which states that only peace officers or the owner of the establishment can have a gun on the property, to allow citizens with a concealed weapons permit to bring their firearms into bars.

There are some catches, though: A gun-toting citizen would not be allowed to drink while bearing their firearm, and bar owners would be allowed to post a sign if they did not want to allow guns into their establishment, pursuant to private property rights.

With much Republican support at the Capitol, the bill has one organization supporting it: the National Rifle Association. Others, including Democrats and the Arizona Restaurant and Hospitality Association, argue the bill would compromise public safety or drive away customers from well-intentioned businesses.

Laura Bur, general manager of O'Malleys, 247 N. Fourth Ave., said she is against allowing people to bring guns into bars because it jeopardizes the safety of patrons and employees.

"I think firearms and alcohol are a dangerous mix," Bur said. "This in no way creates a safe environment for patrons and employees alike."

If the bill passes, it would mean guns would be allowed in all bars except those with a posted sign saying they are not allowed.

"This is possibly the most stupid piece of legislation proposed by man," said Dennis Arnold, owner of Gentle Ben's Brewing Company, 865 E. University Blvd. "If this legislation passes, we will be posting signs the next day that state 'no guns, no knives, no contraband, you morons.'"

Yesterday, legislators attempted to change parts of the bill, including reversing the sign requirement so guns would only be allowed in bars that post a sign saying so. That amendment to the bill did not pass.

The bill, as it was amended yesterday, would require owners who wanted to keep firearms out of their bars to post the sign at every entrance to the establishment. Previously, the bill only required posting at the main entrance.

"(This is) so no one could claim ignorance," said Rep. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler. He said it would help ensure that when guns were not allowed, people would be aware of that.

Another proposed amendment that was not approved was one that would broaden the bill to apply to weapons instead of firearms. Rep. Tom Prezelski, D-Tucson, said he thought the amendment would have helped protect those who did not want any weapons in their businesses.

Some legislators said they are just plain sick of the bill and said it is a waste of their time.

Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said it wouldn't matter which amendments were passed because the bill was so "dumb" that it couldn't be improved.

Rep. David Lujan, D-Phoenix, said the legislature should have taken the time to fund other things for the state, and this bill did not deserve any of the debate it was receiving.

"Guns in bars kill," Lujan said, citing the recent shooting of an ASU football player outside of a Scottsdale club.

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said the bill does not change anyone's rights.

"It's already illegal to shoot people," Farnsworth said.

Bill Nugent, owner of The Shanty, 401 E. Ninth St., said he opposes the bill regardless of how it is amended.

"Just look at the crime rates in Southeast Arizona alone. I don't see how they can expect something like this to work," Nugent said. "I am adamantly opposed to this bill no matter how it is presented."

Farnsworth said the bill was not about putting the right to bear arms ahead of the right for public safety, but about balancing those rights by ensuring that people who have guns are not consuming alcohol while they are in a bar.

However, bar owners and door people will not check to see if a person is intoxicated when he or she enters the bar carrying a gun, they would only be restricted from drinking at that particular bar.

The bill, SB 1363, will next face a vote by the full House of Representatives.

- Troy Acevedo contributed to this report.

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