Some years back, I wrote a book titled Firing Back: A Clear, Simple Guide to Defending Your Right to Keep and Bear Arms (Krause Publishing, 1995). For all ten of you who bought a copy—thanks! Shortly after that book came out, my wife and I went away for a romantic weekend at a bed and breakfast in the Sierra foothills. Not surprisingly, my new book somehow came up in conversation with some of the other couples that were staying at the same B&B.
Eventually, one of the other husbands bought a copy of my book—and a few hours later, I noticed that his wife and him were having a conversation about what was in the book—including my comments about the dangers of mixing alcohol and guns. The wife seemed astonishingly happy and even a little smug about my remarks—and he had a rather sheepish look.
I suspect that this isn’t the only family where there has been more than a little discussion of alcohol and guns. When I started work at my current employer in Idaho, I put up some newspaper clippings about my battle with the history professor and fraud Michael Bellesiles—and one of the secretaries went ballistic. The more we talked, the more I figured out why. Her father hunted, had lots of guns, and drank heavily. Unfortunately, he combined all these activities together, and she was awash in stories that could have turned out a lot worse. Her father hadn’t killed anyone yet while handling a gun in an intoxicated state, but this was just sheer luck. I could understand why she wasn’t just hostile or negative to guns and gun owners—she was downright irrational in her fear. I wish that I could say that these didn’t have a reason, but she did.
Alcohol and guns don't mix well together. Neither do alcohol and cars, alcohol and power tools, alcohol and ladders, alcohol and casual sex—you might say that alcohol doesn't play well with others. My experience is that most gun owners recognize the seriousness of this combination and don’t mix them.
For me, this is quite easy. I never developed a taste for alcoholic beverages. I may drink two to three glasses of wine a year, and nothing harder. On the rare occasions that I do have a glass of wine with dinner, I am at home. The prospect of driving anywhere after even a little alcohol scares me witless. Because I am not a drinker, it takes very, very little alcohol to impair my driving, judgment, and reflexes. (Severe alcoholics, by comparison, are often less impaired at the legal limit of .08 per cent blood alcohol level than people like me are at .02 per cent blood alcohol level—their brains are used to being pickled.) Sniffing the cork from a wine bottle isn’t quite enough to make me dangerous behind the wheel, but it is close!
In the last few years, as state after state have liberalized their concealed weapon permit laws, quite a number have included provisions designed to prevent the dangerous mix of alcohol and guns. A few states had laws already in effect that prohibited possession of a firearm while intoxicated. Some states have prohibited possession of a concealed handgun while drinking, or that prohibited concealed carry in bars. As I will be discussing in the rest of this article, while these laws were well-intentioned, some of them make no sense, and need to be revised.
I attended the Gun Rights Policy Conference in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky in early October. It was very nice to travel through three different states that trust me to carry a concealed handgun: Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana. It did bring to my attention the variation in how different states have dealt with the problem of alcohol and guns.
Kentucky prohibits concealed carry of a handgun in, “Any portion of an establishment licensed to dispense beer or alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises, which portion of the establishment is primarily devoted to that purpose.” What does “primarily devoted to that purpose” mean? That would seem to include a bar, but not a restaurant that serves food.
Other states are more demanding. Georgia, for example, prohibits concealed carry in “establishments at which alcoholic beverages are sold for consumption on the premises.” Liquor stores are okay; bars are not; restaurants where alcohol is served are not. Think about this for a second, and it should be obvious that the law is too broadly written. If you meet some friends for dinner in, for practical purposes, any restaurant above the level of giving your order to a plastic clown or talking Chihuahua, you are prohibited from being armed for self-defense. If you meet some friends at a bar, and you are drinking nothing more intoxicating than club soda, you are prohibited from being armed for self-defense.
What makes this especially absurd is that there are some people for whom alcohol removes the last 30,000 years of human civilization. I hope that this won’t be a surprise to you, but some people, after they have had a few beers, seem to forget that fundamental rule we all learned in kindergarten—it’s not nice to hit! What if someone has drunk their way from relaxed through silly into belligerent? Even worse, they have decided not to obey Georgia’s law against guns in bars, because they are not legally allowed to carry concealed anyway (perhaps because of previous bar fights). What happens then?
Unfortunately, this is not a thought experiment. Fortunately, someone in Georgia recently preferred common sense over Georgia law—and shockingly enough, it appears that local police also preferred common sense over Georgia law.
A man named Juan Ojeda showed up a sports bar in Norcross, Georgia on October 18, and had apparently already been drinking. It appears that Ojeda was in some minor fight with another patron of the bar, and left. Ojeda returned 45 minutes later with a gun in his hand. One of those who Ojeda had fought with earlier understandably felt threatened, and attempted to retreat—but went ahead and drew his own handgun, killing Ojeda. While the police investigation was still ongoing as I wrote this article, police were characterizing the shooting as self-defense, and indicated that it was unlikely that they would be filing charges against the shooter.
It’s a good thing that the shooter was carrying his handgun, apparently in violation of Georgia law. I don’t think Ojeda returned to the bar with a gun because the bar was out of swizzle sticks. It makes you wonder: if he had not been shot, might Ojeda have killed several people in the bar, and become a national headline instead?
I’m not quite sure exactly how I would revise Georgia’s law on this. Clearly, a person who is in a bar or other place that serves alcohol but is not drinking should be allowed to have a concealed handgun for self-defense. There is perhaps a case that a person who is not intoxicated or impaired by alcohol should be allowed to have a handgun as well. But I wouldn’t want to argue the point too strongly. As I mentioned above, our laws define certain levels of blood alcohol as intoxication, even though individuals respond very differently. A blood alcohol level that would make someone like myself dangerous with a credit card, much less a gun, might be perfectly fine for a person who drinks a beer every day.
What is clear is that the current Georgia law, and that of other states that criminalize handgun possession for simply being in a place where alcohol is being served, make no sense. This incident in Norcross is one more example of how a gun-free zone makes people less safe, not more. If you live in Georgia, you might want to contact GeorgiaCarry.org at http://www.georgiacarry.org to see what you can do to correct this not very well thought out law.
Clayton E. Cramer is a software engineer and historian. His sixth book, Armed America: The Remarkable Story of How and Why Guns Became as American as Apple Pie (Nelson Current, 2007), is available in bookstores. His web site is http://www.claytoncramer.com.
 Georgia Code, § 16-11-127, http://www.legis.state.ga.us/legis/2003_04/gacode/16-11-127.html, last accessed October 23, 2007.
 Lateef Mungin, “Fatal shooting at Norcross bar marks Gwinnett homicide record,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 18, 2007, http://www.ajc.com/services/content/metro/gwinnett/stories/2007/10/18/barshooting_1019.html?cxtype=rss&cxsvc=7&cxcat=13, last accessed October 23, 2007.
 George Chidi, “Police: Shooting was self-defense,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 19, 2007, http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/stories/2007/10/19/killrecordside1019.html?cxntlid=inform, last accessed October 23, 2007.