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Bill Would Allow Guns To Be Carried In Restaurants

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File photo of guns. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

File photo of guns. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Senators advanced Wednesday a bill intended to let people with concealed weapon permits carry their gun into restaurants while cautioning gun rights advocates not to do “something stupid.”

The bill allows permit holders to carry their concealed weapon into places that serve alcohol, unless the business has posted signs against it. The measure will be on next week’s agenda of the full Judiciary Committee.

“It restores some rights to people who should have those rights and protects the rights of business owners,” said Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Summerville, the bill’s main sponsor. “It’s a good balance.”

More than 187,000 South Carolinians hold concealed carry permits, according to the state Law Enforcement Division.

The bill makes it illegal for people to drink alcohol while concealing a gun. Anyone caught could face up to two years in prison and a $2,000 fine.

Several people asked legislators to change that, saying they should be able to have, for example, a glass of wine with their lasagna.

“A CWP holder should be allowed to carry and consume in a restaurant as long as he doesn’t come under the influence,” said Robert Butler of South Carolina’s GrassRoots GunRights. “We’re only asking to come in, have a beer with pizza or a glass of wine with dinner.”

But Sen. Shane Massey, the panel’s chairman, said that would doom the bill’s chances.

Anthony Roulette, a state liaison with the National Rifle Association, said 45 other states allow some form of concealed carry into restaurants.

Patten Watson, treasurer for Mid Carolina Rifle Club, said armed robbers held up a Chinese restaurant in Columbia while he and his wife were dining there about 20 years ago. The robbers held a gun to a girl’s head but didn’t shoot until after they left and Watson followed. Watson said one fired at him seven times without hitting anything.

“I would’ve loved to have been able to carry my handgun in that restaurant that night,” he said, adding that the robbers were convicted and sent to federal prison. “A concealed weapon would’ve stopped everything, I believe.”

No one spoke against the concept.

Reached after the meeting, John Durst, president of the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, said his group hasn’t taken a position on the bill, though its board is set to discuss it at a meeting later this month.

Jeff Moore of the South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association wanted the bill tightened, and he succeeded on one request.

As initially written, the measure didn’t limit concealed carry in restaurants to CWP holders.

“We support the general concept. We absolutely understand,” Moore said. “I don’t think someone who’s gone through the process of getting a CWP is going to risk it by getting drunk at Applebee’s. But if you allow anyone to carry a gun, I think it’s problematic.”

The panel amended the bill, saying that was unintentional.

Moore also asked senators to specify that concealed carry is permitted only in restaurants — and to define those — saying the bill otherwise allows guns in “juke joints” and strip clubs.

“We’d like to see it truly aimed at legitimate restaurants,” Moore said, “not in a place where we end up with shootings every night anyway.”

Asked by Bennett whether CWP holders were ever among those arrested at those locations, Moore replied, “Of course not.”

Massey, R-Edgefield, said he understands Moore’s concern, but that issue has previously prevented the bill’s passage, due to legislators unable to figure out how to define restaurants in a way that’s enforceable.

As for enforcing the bill’s no-alcohol rule, he said, “These are the good guys. They’re not going to jeopardize losing that permit or going to jail just to have a beer. That makes no sense.”

Massey then cautioned the audience.

“If we pass this, if one CWP does something stupid, everybody’s going to get blamed,” he said. Noting he’d received several hundred emails from gun rights advocates, Massey told attendees to “educate people in your email network” so they understand the ramifications.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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