Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Guns in Nashville Bars: Opt-out Versus Opt-in

Here in Nashville the legislature has tried to pass bills making it legal for individuals to carry handguns into a bar. On first hearing this sounds like a terrible idea; well-armed drunks are a recipe for trouble. I personally don't like guns; I'm sure if I owned one, I would end up shooting myself in the foot. I'm simply not comfortable around them.

In this case, however, I think the bill's supporters have actually managed to craft a reasonable bill. Gun carriers cannot drink in the bar, and bar owners can opt out, banning weapons from their bars as they see fit. If it really is such a terrible idea, then all the bars end up banning guns and the problem is solved. The bill ends up doing nothing.

Perhaps, one might argue, the law would still be inefficient because bars will have to spend money on signage announcing that guns are not allowed; prohibiting guns in bars would accomplish the same goal without any wasteful expenditure by bar owners.

There is a simple solution to this: Make the bill opt-in instead of opt-out. Make the default legal rule "guns are banned in bars", but allow a bar to post signage saying "guns are allowed here". Bar owners could even add stipulations, such as "gun carriers can't drink" or "guns must be checked at the door" or "only guns below .38 caliber allowed" (or whatever). The result would be that only bar owners that actually wanted guns in their bars would have to deal with them. Bar patrons who don't want to worry about guns at bars can simply avoid those that have chosen to opt in. I wonder, would any of the bill's current opponents accept this version? They can't think that bar owners would willingly place themselves at risk (physically and financially) and their patrons at risk (mostly physically, I guess) if guns in bars really are a bad idea. If they still don't support the bill, are they really worried about safety or do they simply not like the idea of people carrying guns?

That last question isn't rhetorical; I genuinely want to know. What are the remaining objections to my alternative version of the law?

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