Many states allow permit holders to carry firearms in bars and restaurants, while others have varying regulations that make it illegal depending on certain criteria. Some have blanket prohibitions for any facility that serves alcohol.
Still others have the almost laughable “51 percent” rule, which prohibits carry in a business that obtains more than half of its revenues from the sale of alcohol. Some such states require a sticker with a big “51” on it, usually at or near the entrance, to warn prospective customers.
Potential consequences for violating such bans can run from a simple fine to much more severe penalties, including jail time. As always, check your state’s laws and county or city ordinances, and talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney to get their take as well.
In Minnesota, we were careful to write our law without such restrictions. We argued that there is no logical reason for prohibiting carrying a handgun simply because someone happens to be sitting in a place that serves alcohol. The real issue is whether or not they are intoxicated, not where they are sitting. If someone is having a burger and a soda, why should anyone care?
Naturally, some of the arguments for banning carry in bars are vague and emotional. “Guns and alcohol don’t mix” or “A bar is no place for guns,” etc. But they never explain how such prohibitions keep felons, lunatics, and anyone else with evil intentions from carrying into the very same bar or restaurant.
But regardless of whether or not you can legally carry, bars do indeed represent an environment in which any permit holder should exercise particular awareness. Because even though we ourselves may not be drinking, others likely are. And some people have the kind of personalities that do not improve with copious amounts of alcohol.
Obviously, there are differences between a relatively “family friendly” restaurant that also serves alcohol (Applebees) and an establishment that is primarily a bar (just about any sports bar). I ride a motorcycle, so I know the difference between a bar that is “motorcycle friendly” and a “biker bar.” I avoid the latter unless I know it to be OK.
Some folks, especially those in their 20s and 30s, patronize clubs or other places that are typically night-life focused, offering both music and booze. Given the higher potential for violence that such places represent, I usually advise my younger students to think twice about the risks. Every big city has places that every cop knows. And if you end up in a violent encounter there, prosecutors could argue that you were reckless, even “looking for trouble” if you voluntarily entered a place “you knew to be dangerous.”
Small towns aren’t necessarily bastions of peace and tranquility either. In many, the (sometimes only) bar in town can be a rather rough place. True story: Back in the 1980s, traveling for business, I once walked into a small-town bar at lunch time to make a phone call (this was pre-cell phone), and they actually had chicken wire in front of the bandstand, just like in the movies. No, I did not come back for dinner that evening.
Regarding guns and alcohol, I simply suggest that you carefully consider all the risks, both legal and tactical, before entering any place that serves alcohol. Unarmed, you risk being defenseless. Armed, you risk legal ramifications. So choose wisely.
Be smart. Stay safe.