North Carolina may soon become another state that allows concealed handguns into restaurants, including those that serve alcoholic beverages. The legislation is NC House Bill 111 (HB111). During the legislative debate in the House and during recent Senate Committee deliberations, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mark Hilton, a Republican from Catawba County, has stated that 44 states have similar bills and “there have been no problems” (ref), and the rhetoric has included the right of ‘law abiding citizens’ to protect themselves.
The Violence Policy Center (VPC) in Washington, DC is maintaining/building a data base of non-self defense killings by CCW permit holders around the country. From May, 2007 to May, 2012 they report a total of 447 non-self-defense killings by CCW permit holders in various states, that claimed the lives of 435 citizens and 12 law enforcement officers (ref). As the identification of permit holders is becoming more restrictive, the numbers represented are considered to be an underestimate and include what has been found in news media reports. The following link contains the events sorted by state with a summary of each incident, including source and status of the case, i.e., conviction, pending, etc. (ref).
I contacted VPC and asked if they could search the database for incidents involving establishments that serve food and beverage. Fourteen matches across 8 states came up where CCW permit holders killed individuals (not in self defense) either in or at such establishments. The recent Seattle mass shooting by a CCW permit holder, that occurred within the timeframe of VPC’s report, where 6 lost their lives (including 4 at a café) (ref), was not included, but will be here bringing the total to 15 incidents in 9 states. In all, a total of 29 citizens lost their lives and 16 others were wounded during these shootings. Some examples of these non-self defense killings follow.
Alcohol was involved in some instances as was the case in NC where the permit holder could not recollect specifics about putting a bullet into the back of a persons head – he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
An unintentional killing occurred when the permit holder’s gun fell to the floor discharging, hitting a woman in the back and killing her. The permit holder apparently ignored the sign at the door that prohibited firearms as well as other similar signs posted inside the establishment.
A CCW permit holder got into an argument with another customer at a Bar and Grill and pulled his gun. A security guard told him to drop the weapon, he refused, the guard pulled his own weapon and shooting ensued killing 2 and injuring 10. This incident provides an example where an individual (the security guard) intervened with his weapon that resulted in collateral damage to multiple bystanders.
And claims of self-defense by CCW permit holders were made. In one such case video surveillance showed the permit holder shooting two men and that one of the men had his hands “raised and free from any objects or weapons”. This instance shows the danger of the Castle Doctrine being extended outside the home (‘Stand Your Ground’ as in the Trayvon Martin matter) as usually only the shooter is left standing when a claim of self-defense is made.
Whether or not laws were in place regarding concealed carry in restaurants in all cases is irrelevant. Multiple non-self defense killings at eating and drinking establishments by CCW permit holders have been reported.
As mentioned above, alcohol was involved in some of these incidents. Regarding ‘law abiding’ behavior with alcohol, investigative reporting by the NY Times showed almost 900 NC CCW permit holders had been convicted of drunk driving over the past 5 years (ref) – this number almost certainly being an underestimate of this illegal and dangerous activity as only the convictions are mentioned. A large multi-state study (15,000 surveys across 8 states) showed that CCW permit holders were more than twice as likely to engage in heavy alcohol use than non-gun owners and that gun owners who drove or road in vehicles with loaded guns were more than four times as likely an non-gun owners to engage in heavy alcohol use (ref) and (ref). And the TN state representative, Curry Todd, who sponsored similar legislation in that state and who represented on multiple occasions that no responsible gun owner would ever drink and carry their weapon, failed a roadside sobriety test in October of this past year while in possession of his loaded handgun. He was booked on both DUI and gun charges (ref) . Representative Todd is also an ex-law enforcement officer and clearly knew the law, but still violated the very principle he used to argue for the legislation.
What has also not been represented during deliberations (to the best of my knowledge) is that the gun lobby is supporting National Concealed Carry Reciprocity. Should that legislation pass the US Senate (it has passed the House) and not face presidential veto, individual states would be forced to allow CCW permit holders from other states to bring their concealed weapons into their state, and thus into parks, restaurants, etc., where such is permitted. Some states have lax gun control laws not even requiring safety training.
So the question becomes how increasing public exposure to CCW permit holders in restaurants (including those that serve alcohol) will reduce the risk to citizens from a segment of CCW permit holders that have been shown to be less than responsible and capable of engaging in acts of violence. Logic would dictate that expanding public exposure could only increase the risk of firearm discharge in public settings, and that attempts to intervene with guns can create substantial collateral damage. Additionally, it is difficult to imagine an off-setting benefit that could justify this already established loss of citizen life by some permit holders.
These findings and concerns were summarized and sent to the NC bill sponsor with copy to leadership in both parties in both houses asking that full consideration be given should the bill find its way to the senate floor.
A couple of things are clear however. First, stating that there have been ‘no problems’ with concealed carry at restaurants and bars needs to cease; it simply is not true. Second, use of the term ‘law abiding citizen’ to defend the carrying of concealed weapons should not be applied to the entirety of the concealed carry population.