Myrtle Beach area restaurant owners react to new gun legislation passed by S.C. legislature

For The Sun NewsJanuary 25, 2014 

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Gun legislation that is now awaiting the signature of Gov. Nikki Haley after being passed by state legislature may have conjured visions of gun battles, bad guys and shoot-outs during dinner in the minds of many, but allowing people with concealed weapons permits to bring their guns into restaurants and bars in South Carolina is a dilemma business owners must address immediately.

While Burroughs and Chapin, Inc., which owns Broadway at the Beach and Barefoot Landing among other properties, issued a statement saying they had no comment at this time on the legislation, John Powell, general manager of Pirates Cove Lounge in North Myrtle Beach, didn’t hesitate to weigh in.

“We’re not excited about it.”

Included in the bill is a provision for business owners to opt out, meaning they have the right to decide whether or not to post signs stating a “no weapons” policy and Powell said the plan is that Pirate’s Cove will post a sign barring weapons from being brought in.

The bill also has a clause in it that states people who are drinking alcohol may not have their weapons on them.

Bill Barber, general manager of Suck, Bang, Blow, a biker bar at the opposite end of the Grand Strand, said “We already have a policy in place: ‘No weapons, no colors, no attitudes’ – and it’s been like that for years.”

While Barber noted they rarely have issues at SBB, he said “alcohol and guns don’t mix” while wondering “What is this going to do to insurance rates?”

Sharing the sentiment with Barber and Powell was David McMillan of Drunken Jacks’ in Murrells Inlet, who said he “was fine with the legislation” but was also glad business owners would be able to decide how they wanted to handle it.

The 35-year business owner is also the chairman of the executive committee for South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association.

The association currently has approximately 1,400 members, according to McMillan, and the legislation was among the topics of discussion at the recent annual winter board meeting.

Reaction to the legislation was described as “not a surprise” by McMillan, who added “we are really not trying to hinder or help, we are simply in favor of each individual (business) having the right to make a decision.”

“It is what it is,” said McMillan, who does not plan to put up a sign. He noted that in 35 years, they’ve “never had problems ... of course, the safety of our patrons and our employees is always a priority” he said.

Stephen Greene of the Myrtle Beach Hospitality Association, which he said was responsible for being “the voice of the industry” said they “are pleased merchants have the option to make a business decision on this matter.”

Greene also noted that, like any other “new bill,” they will work to familiarize business owners on the new policies and will work through any “issues” that may arise.

Law enforcement officials, including SLED chief Mark Keel, testified last year that guns and bars “do not mix.” The Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense group also pressed lawmakers not to pass the law.

Critics say it will be difficult to know whether someone with a concealed weapon had been drinking in a bar.

“How do you know if I got one besides my honesty?” asked state Rep. Terry Alexander, D-Florence.

But State Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, who has been advocating for the bill in the House, said the fear of penalties for violating the law – including a fine of up to $2,000 or up to two years in jail, and losing a weapons permit for five years – will keep gun owners in line.

As of Jan. 17, there were 229,310 concealed weapons permits in South Carolina, according to SLED.

The bill also would change the state’s concealed weapons law, allowing permit applications to be made online. It also would eliminate an eight-hour mandatory training requirement to get a permit, and make it easier for active and retired military and law enforcement members to get a concealed permits by showing proof of their previous training.

It was unclear Friday night on when Haley might sign the bill into law.

The State Newspaper’s Jamie Self contributed to this report.

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