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Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Gun bill triggers mixed reactions

By Shelley Grieshop
Area bar owners and law officers have mixed emotions about approved legislation that would allow guns inside businesses where alcohol is served.
The pending law - Senate Bill 17 - was passed Wednesday by the Ohio House and Senate and awaits final approval by Gov. John Kasich. A governor's spokesman said Kasich intends to sign the bill, although a date has not been set.
SB 17 allows people with concealed-carry permits to bring their firearms into bars, restaurants, nightclubs, sport stadiums and other places with liquor licenses as long as they don't drink or aren't drunk. Current law bans firearms where alcohol is served.
"Wow," was the initial response Wednesday from Tina Hay, co-owner of Sidetrack Bar & Grill (formerly Roberts Town Tavern) in Celina, after hearing the bill was near passage. "That's kind of a double-edged sword."
Hay said she understands "good guys" wanting a gun at their side for protection. But a "bad guy" could have one hidden and no one would know it, she added.
"We welcome families with children in here. I don't know how that will work," Hay said. "A half dozen people sitting around here with guns on them ... I don't know if that's such a good idea."
The bill gives bar and restaurant owners the option of prohibiting guns in their establishments. Bill Dues, owner of the St. Henry Nite Club, said he'll take advantage of that right.
"Personally, I don't want to see people in bars with guns," he said. "Around here I don't think it will be much of a problem but can you imagine what could happen in cities like Dayton?"
Dues said beer, whiskey and guns don't mix. He isn't worried about local folks but he doesn't like the idea of "outsiders" walking into his bar with a loaded gun.
Supporters of the measure say it's safer to bring firearms into businesses than leave them in vehicles where they could be stolen. Opponents say guns and booze is a recipe for disaster and tragedy.
Forty-two other states already allow gun owners to carry a concealed firearm into businesses that serve alcohol but they exclude bars and stadiums. SB 17 is being touted as one of the broadest gun laws in the country.
State Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, was one of 25 senators who voted for the bill. He told the newspaper the legislation upholds the Constitutional rights of Ohioans to bear arms and protect themselves. Bans on firearm possession in establishments gives the advantage to bad guys, he explained.
"Criminals know people aren't able to defend themselves," he said. "It really does make a series of traps for the unwary."
Faber said gun problems such as shootings in public places historically have nothing to do with concealed-carry permit holders. Limiting their rights "does nothing to promote safety within our communities," he said.
Sheriffs in Mercer and Auglaize counties echoed the same opinion. Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey said the majority of legal gun owners are law-abiding citizens who've passed rigorous background checks.
"I am OK with the law as long as it remains that you cannot drink and carry a firearm," he said.
Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon also supports the law but expressed some apprehension.
"My concern has always been for officers and deputies that are entering bars on calls and do not know in some cases who they are dealing with until they get there," he said.
Law-abiding gun permit holders could innocently be drawn into a bad situation, Solomon said.
"The concealed-carry licensed person may not be the cause of a situation in a bar, but may become involved and then a gun could get into the wrong hands," he said.

Legislation details:
The Ohio House and Senate on Wednesday approved passage of a bill that allows concealed-carry permit holders to take firearms into facilities where alcohol is consumed. Gov. John Kasich supports the legislation and is expected to sign the bill into law.
Specifics of the bill:
• A person with a proper gun permit may carry a loaded firearm into any establishment with a Class D liquor license such as a bar, restaurant, nightclub, shopping mall, museum and athletic stadium. Guns are still banned at university sports venues, government facilities, schools and places of worship.
• Places that serve alcohol have the right to disallow firearms on their premises. The state's professional sports teams have said they will continue to ban weapons at all events for public safety.
• Concealed-carry permit holders cannot be drunk or drinking alcohol while inside establishments serving alcohol. Violators will be charged with a felony and risk losing their concealed-carry permit.
• Details on how the law will be enforced have not been made public.
- Shelley Grieshop
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