Idea of guns in bars has some up in arms Activist opposed to bill takes warning to local watering holes

Blind Tiger Pub manager Hannah Wilson respects the right of people to have guns, but not in bars and restaurants. Numerous other area businesses on Tuesday also received this small flier attempting to influence the Legislature's consideration of a bill allowing it.

Hannah Wilson, manager at the Blind Tiger pub on Broad Street, admits to not knowing much about the concealed-weapons bill racing through the state Legislature.

But she is steadfastly against the idea of allowing concealed guns in her business.

"I think there are already enough 'beef heads' that try to use their fists when they are drunk," Wilson said. "I'm comfortable around guns; I just don't want them in my establishment."

The Blind Tiger was one of dozens of downtown Charleston bars and eateries that received an anonymous yellow card Tuesday explaining how their business could be adversely affected if lawmakers expand the scope of the state's concealed-weapons law.

Labeled "No Lead with My Drink Please," the card's text listed a number of warnings should lawmakers allow permit holders to carry their guns into places that serve alcohol, which is now prohibited.

For example: "You will be forced to decide which group of customers to lose, those favoring loaded weapons in your place of business or those opposed to them."

Another warning: "Of course you'll have no way of knowing who has a weapon or who has a permit."

The yellow cards were left Tuesday with bars and restaurants around the Market and along East Bay and Broad streets. They were delivered by William Hamilton, a local liberal activist who previously was behind Charleston's "Occupy" movement.

In a phone interview, Hamilton said he and his supporters have visited more than 65 businesses locally, including in Mount Pleasant and Goose Creek, to issue the warning about what to expect if the gun-carry law changes.

Another point he is stressing is that food and beverage staffers aren't trained in gun detection, meaning the law potentially could put them in a position of having to question patrons as to whether they are armed or understand all aspects of the concealed-carry law.

"This is a party town," Hamilton said. Waiters, waitresses and bartenders "don't want to have to deal with this. They want to make money and to cash out."

Hamilton said the effort doesn't have a designated group name, other than its supporters referring to themselves as progressives. He also is calling on business owners to contact their lawmakers to voice opposition.

Last week the state Senate passed legislation expanding the reach of the state's concealed-weapons law by allowing those with permits to carry into places that serve alcohol. It now goes to the House, where it is expected to pass. It then would go to the desk of Gov. Nikki Haley, who carries a concealed-weapons permit.

Under its provisions, those with concealed-weapons permits cannot consume alcohol and still be covered by the law's protections. Restaurants could opt out, however, by posting a sign in their window that says guns are not allowed inside.

Bill sponsor and state Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Summerville, said Tuesday that none of the criticisms he is hearing now surfaced during months of debate last year. As he sees it, the measure will even out gun-owner rights. For instance, under current state law a Waffle House could allow those with concealed-weapons permits to sit and eat, but an Applebee's could not because it serves alcohol, he said.

The new law simply extends the same privileges to bars and restaurants that serve drinks - a modest measure, he said.

"Everybody recognizes that alcohol and guns don't mix," he said. "That's why this bill was very specific" and ensures that those carrying guns cannot drink as well, he said. "This is not a drastic change."

Several Charleston area businesses reached Tuesday said they were unfamiliar with the law's progress, while others said they already have decided to post notices barring concealed weapons.

Tim Maahs, of Charleston Beer Works, said he is a gun owner and pro-Second Amendment, but that the idea of allowing guns in his establishment will make all sorts of people uncomfortable.

New customers, such as tourists, are going to wonder "what's going on in there?" he said, if there are gun warnings outside.

Karalee Nielsen Fallert, co-owner of several restaurants in the Charleston area, including Poe's Tavern, Monza and Taco Boy, said Tuesday she has been busy opening a new eatery and hasn't heard about the proposed new law. But she added that lawmakers were unnecessarily creating a potential problem where no problem previously existed.

"It's a non-issue becoming an issue," she said, and a "ridiculous thing for us to be talking about" when much more important concerns, such as education, need to be addressed.

"I would rather people focus on how people are getting guns to begin with," she said.

Wilson, of the Blind Tiger, said her pub already has made the decision to go gun-free if the bill becomes law.

"Concealed weapons in a bar? I just don't see the point," she said.

Jeremy Borden and Adam Parker contributed to this report. Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.