A measure allowing people to carry firearms into bars passed the Arizona Senate and House of Representatives, but many bar and restaurant owners say even if the governor signs the bill into law they won’t allow guns in their businesses.
The consensus among many bar owners, the Arizona Restaurant and Hospitality Association, the Arizona Tourism Alliance and the legislators who voted against the bill is that guns and alcohol don’t mix.
The National Rifle Association and other legislators say Americans have a Second Amendment right to carry a gun into an establishment, whether or not it serves alcohol.
If SB1363 becomes law, any bar owner who opposes guns in bars could post signs at every entrance to their businesses prohibiting guns.
The law would also forbid anyone with a gun in a bar from drinking alcohol, but critics say that part of the measure would be unenforceable, because concealed weapons are difficult to detect.
Mike Kakar Jr., owner of Kakar’s City Limits Bar, 1130 W. Jimmie Kerr Blvd., Casa Grande, said he would definitely post a sign prohibiting guns his bar if the bill becomes law.
People are already using guns for violence in the streets, he said. "You can imagine what would happen in a bar."
As the owner of a restaurant and bar soon to open in Parker, Zoraya Diaz said she would also post a sign forbidding guns on her property.
"I wouldn’t even want to be the one to open this can of worms," Diaz said.
Guns should not be allowed in bars, she said, adding that no one will really know how much of a problem guns pose in bars unless the bill passes.
Michael Preston Green, who represents the Arizona Restaurant and Hospitality Association, told legislators there is no need to try to fix a problem that does not exist.
"We don’t think there should be guns in bars any more than there should be guns in schools," Green said.
Kakar said he already enforces a dress code at his Casa Grande club to make it difficult for people to hide weapons, such as knives, in baggy clothing. He also has a bouncer at the door to his bar to check for identification and weapons.
Kakar said he has been fortunate not to have experienced any problems with guns in his bar he took over from his dad, but he said he knows others in Pinal County who have not been as lucky.
Kakar said times have changed since Arizona was "the Old West" and everyone carried a gun wherever they went. At least then, Kakar said, everyone had a gun.
The "stupid" measure just doesn’t make sense now, he said.
"You lose your senses when you’re drunk, and [guns and alcohol are] not a good mixture," Kakar said.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jack Harper (R-Sun City West) said the bill would restore citizens’ Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Harper said 33 states already have similar laws regarding guns in places that serve liquor. If this bill passes, he said, it would be among the more conservative versions because a person with a gun on them would not be allowed to drink.
Rep. Ted Downing (D-Tucson) said he thought a change in the law would pose a conflict, putting the right to bear arms ahead of the right to public safety and welfare.
Downing also said he thought such a measure would have a negative impact on tourism in Arizona.
"People like eating and traveling in safe places, that’s why they come here," Downing said. "I think public safety trumps the right to bear arms."
Kakar said he is also concerned that the potential for gun-related violence to affect the safety of employees at the bar.
"If we tell them they can’t bring it in, they’ll fight with us," Kakar said.
Kakar said he has nearly gotten into fights with people who would not leave his parking lot after he had asked them to. A gun would exacerbate that situation, even if the person weren't drinking, he said.
Andrea Kelly is the Don Bolles Fellow in the University of Arizona Journalism Department. She is spending spring semester of her senior year covering rural and suburban issues at the state Legislature for the journalism department’s Community News Service.