Tuesday, May 22, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Marilou Johanek


On guns in bars, state lawmakers defy logic, safety

"Armed, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son." It's not quite the way fans of the movie Animal House remember Dean Wormer's line, but a commentator on the Web site Think Progress used it appropriately to sum up the lunacy of Ohio's lawmakers.

Any day now, the geniuses in the General Assembly will sign off on legislation that allows hidden weapons in bars and other establishments that serve alcohol, so long as the one packing heat doesn't imbibe. How anyone would enforce that provision in a crowded bar that doesn't pat down patrons before they start drinking is unclear.

Also a mystery to most Ohioans is why the Republican-controlled Statehouse is so committed to promoting broader gun rights when more urgent issues need to be resolved. It's safe to say that expanding public venues for concealed-carry enthusiasts is not on the top 10 list of concerns of ordinary citizens preoccupied with expenses that galloped past incomes eons ago.

Residents who will be pressed to pay higher taxes to balance unsustainable state budget cuts to local governments and public schools were never exercised about enhancing concealed-carry rights in the state. Neither were the bars, restaurants, and "open-air arenas" that are the latest targets of lobbyists out to eliminate all gun-free zones.

Barkeeps and others who serve alcohol know plenty about customers who drink too much and become disruptive. They shudder at the prospect of adding loaded guns to the picture, where a chance provocation could lead to drawn weapons.

Major law-enforcement groups in the state, including the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, consider it crazy to permit concealed weapons in public areas where booze flows freely. Their strong opposition to the combination is based on the experience of defusing potentially deadly encounters and minimizing obvious risks.

Opinion polls over the past decade consistently show a majority of voters are unconvinced that relaxing gun restrictions or opening up more public places to gun owners with concealed-carry permits is a good idea. A recent poll by the bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition -- consisting of more than 500 mayors from big cities and small towns across America -- found that 80 percent of Ohioans and 77 percent of gun owners oppose proposals to allow guns in bars, clubs, and other businesses where alcohol is served.

Public reluctance to embrace the agenda of the National Rifle Association isn't surprising. People want to feel safe in their parks, government buildings, university campuses, and stadiums. They don't want to worry that the spectator a couple of seats away or the hiker passing on a public trail is carrying a gun.

Fear of guns and violence is grounded in myriad tragedies where weapons were carried by troublemakers. No urban area with bars on every corner relishes the thought of gun-toting patrons mixing it up with late-night partygoers.

No family out to dinner at Applebee's wants to think that guns could be concealed at the next table, or at the bar where nobody appears to be ordering a soda. The issue isn't gun ownership; it's when and where owners can carry secreted guns in a community with unarmed innocents.

That's common sense. There's nothing irrational about adopting reasonable restrictions to safeguard the public and lessen the potential for problems.

What is untenable is ignoring the public's unease with concealed weapons where they eat, drink, and play. What is senseless is dismissing the alarm of business owners and law enforcement officers who know firsthand how provocations can escalate, especially when alcohol is involved and firearms are handy.

But those who would be directly affected by Ohio's concealed gun bills -- bar owners, restaurant proprietors, police, and the public -- take a back seat with the NRA legislation GOP lawmakers are determined to see signed into law. They have the clout and apparently the compliant governor to do it, regardless of the logic it defies.

The spectacle of politicians dancing like puppets for the gun lobby while the rest of the state goes wanting speaks volumes about Ohio's leadership. Republicans are content to while away their time on the demands of special interests, oblivious to what may come when armed, drunk, and stupid collide.

In Dean Wormer's world, the clueless were comedic. In Ohio, they're the controlling party.

Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com

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