Local businesses divided on concealed-carry bill
Gov. Nikki Haley is expected to sign a bill on Tuesday that would allow concealed-carry permit holders in South Carolina to carry their weapons into bars and restaurants. But some local business owners are already taking sides on the new law, which would also allow businesses to opt out by posting signs indicating that no concealed weapons are allowed.
The bill, which originated in the Senate and has been approved by both houses, would allow people with concealed carry permits to carry concealed weapons into businesses that serve alcohol as long as they do not drink alcohol. It also allows business owners and managers to decide if they want to allow concealed weapons in their establishments by posting signs announcing they prohibit concealed weapons.
'Only a matter of time'
Randy Stamm, owner of Prime Steakhouse on Richland Avenue, said he has no problem with customers carrying in his business.
“The way I look at it, the way crime is today, it's only a matter of time,” he said. “And if I can't get to my weapon, someone else can get to theirs.”
Robert Ducher, owner of StrikeHouse Bowl on Whiskey Road, said he would also allowed permit holders to carry concealed.
“You just never know in today's society,” he said.
Ferrando's Italian Pizzeria on South Aiken Lane said it would also allow concealed carry.
Mark Crisp, owner of the Cork & Bull Pub on Whiskey Road, said he plans to put up signs saying concealed weapons are not permitted in his business. He called the bill “ludicrous.”
“It's about the people in the establishment that are consuming alcohol. They may be provoked,” he said. “For customers, whether they're drinking or not, to have firearms in my establishment – that's not gonna fly.”
Crisp said he's in favor of an individual's right to bear arms.
“I have my own and have my own permit, but it just doesn't make any sense, why you would have the capability of carrying in an establishment where they sell alcohol,” he said. “That's just – that is ludicrous.”
Bryan Mitchell, general manager of The Polo Tavern and the Cork & Bean at One Hundred Laurens, could not be reached for comment for this story but told the Aiken Standard last year that he is against people carrying weapons in the bars, both of which are inside Hotel Aiken.
“Anybody around them that's drinking might even grab it,” he said. “I don't even think it needs to be in the presence of someone that's consuming alcohol.”
Just a few hundred feet up Richland Avenue, Josh Nicholson, bartender at Playoffs Sports Bar & Grill, said he and the operating staff have been keeping an eye on the legislation as it's progressed, and they plan to post signs prohibiting guns in the bar.
Lawmakers in agreement
Aiken County lawmakers were more in agreement on the bill than business owners.
Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, voted for the bill and noted that more than 40 other states allow similar carry.
“The bill also has a zero-tolerance threshold for alcohol consumption and stiff penalties for violating that restriction, including a prison sentence of up to two years and revocation of the concealed-carry permit,” Young said.
Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, a sponsor of the bill, has said responsible gun owners who go through the process of obtaining a concealed-carry permit need to be trusted.
Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, sponsored a companion bill in the House and said he received a number of calls and emails from constituents, most of whom were in favor of it. He emphasized that business owners have the option of disallowing weapons in their establishments.
Taylor also noted there have been no violent crimes committed by concealed-carry permit holders in South Carolina.
“It's not the CWP holders creating the problems with weapons,” he said.
Rep. Roland Smith, R-Aiken, voted in favor of the bill, and is a concealed-carry permit holder himself.
“I think the law-abiding citizens of not only South Carolina, but the nation, deserve the right to protect themselves and their families,” he said. “The criminals are carrying those guns. They'll use that as an advantage if you're not carrying.”
Smith said he's also spoken with constituents who mistakenly thought the new law would allow people to carry openly. A separate bill by an Upstate state senator would eliminate concealed-carry permits and turn South Carolina into an open-carry state like Georgia. That bill is currently in a Senate sub-committee.
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.