Get ready for guns in bars
By Dan Casey
It's far too early to take a reasonable guess at who will prevail in November's likely gubernatorial slugfest between state Sen. Creigh Deeds and former Attorney General Bob McDonnell.
But one probable victor is the frightening guns-in-bars legislation that has passed the Virginia House and Senate for the past two years and was sensibly vetoed each time by Gov. Tim Kaine.
Both Deeds, a Bath County Democrat who voted for the bill, and McDonnell, a Henrico County Republican, are on the record in favor of allowing concealed weapons in bars, by permit holders, provided those handgun hiders do not drink alcohol.
To McDonnell, it's a constitutional issue. If elected, he would sign it into law.
"Concealed carry permit holders have to pass rigorous background checks prior to gaining a permit. These are law-abiding individuals exercising their Second Amendment right to bear arms," says Tucker Martin, a McDonnell campaign spokesman.
Deeds stands by his vote earlier this year. If elected, he would sign the bill Kaine vetoed, his campaign said.
"Creigh Deeds supports the Second Amendment and Virginia's current laws, but believes that guns and alcohol don't mix," Deeds spokesman Jared Leopold says. "In the state Senate, Creigh Deeds voted to prevent individuals carrying concealed weapons from drinking alcohol."
That sounds like a fancy way around the fact that the senator voted to remove the current prohibition on concealed weapons in bars.
I don't quite understand why anyone would want to carry a concealed weapon into a bar. Open carry/no drinking already is allowed, though restaurateurs often ask those people to leave. (Maybe that's why gun owners want to hide them.)
Larry Pratt, president of the Northern Virginia-based Gun Owners of America, says it's because of the "element of surprise."
"When you're carrying concealed, you retain the element of surprise much more than if you're carrying openly," Pratt told me. And that would give you an edge over any attacker, he added.
It's precisely that prospect that frightens the dickens out of two well-known and experienced Roanoke-area barkeeps.
One is Mike Flanary, co-owner of The Cornerstone Bar & Grill on the city market and Flanary's Irish Pub on Jefferson Street downtown. He considers himself a liberal.
The other is Chip Moore, owner of the Brambleton Deli and Annie Moore's Irish Pub, both in Southwest Roanoke County. He calls himself a conservative.
"Can you tell me one good thing that could happen from someone who carried a concealed weapon into a bar? I can't think of one good thing," Flanary told me. "The fact that they would allow it is mind-boggling."
Moore asked, "What are they trying to accomplish by having people with concealed weapons in bars? ... I'm not for stricter guns laws -- but I'm not crazy, either."
Each raised interesting points on the so-far-failed legislation's fine print:
Absent airport-style metal detectors at bars, the proviso that pistol-hiding diners not drink is laughably unenforceable.
Bad judgment and alcohol already are regular companions without guns in the mix. "That upstanding person who has the concealed carry permit is not the same person after 10 beers," Moore observed.
Patrons who are too frightened to enter an establishment without a concealed gun might be better off staying out of it in the first place.
They also both questioned whether an entrance sign barring concealed weapons would deter people from bringing them in.
One reason both candidates would favor guns in bars lies in the gun lobby that has fought for this law, its deep constituency in Virginia and the unquestionable influence it wields over many Virginia politicians.
Another is this: As of May there were roughly 189,000 active concealed-carry permit holders in Virginia.
If November's contest is anything like their historically close 2005 race for attorney general, neither Deeds nor McDonnell can risk alienating any voters.
That's why it's clear concealed-guns-in-bars in Virginia looks like a pretty good bet for 2010, just like it was this year in neighboring Tennessee, where it recently passed.
So next year, with burning cigarettes banned from most restaurants, perhaps the most likely kind of bar smoke we'll see is smoldering wisps that emerge from hot pistol barrels after some permit-holding, gun-hiding patrons get into a face-off.
That is insanity, Virginia.