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McClatchy-Tribune  06/15/2014 3:07 AM ET
Opinions differ among downtown owners on new gun law [The Augusta Chronicle, Ga. :: ]

June 15--Adrian Estrada's downtown bar is fully stocked every night.

Behind the bar at The Loft of Augusta, the Texas native keeps the shelves lined with liquor and the refrigerator full of beer. He also keeps his personal weapons at the establishment at 927 Broad St. Only he and his employees -- most of whom are licensed and trained to handle a gun -- know their location.

Estrada said he has no problem supporting local businesses that don't permit firearms, but he does believe in his Second Amendment rights to bear arms.

He also wants the opportunity to protect himself, his staffers and customers if push comes to shove, he said. In July 2012, when six people were injured during a downtown shooting on First Friday just across the street from The Loft, Estrada said, 60 people ran into his bar because they knew he had guns there.

So, on April 23, when Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law a bill that will allow concealed-carry permit holders to take guns into bars, Estrada was conflicted.

"I've got mixed feelings because I carry," he said. "I can't say I'm the happiest about it, but I can't be a hypocrite."

House Bill 60, called the Safe Carry Protection Act, but nicknamed the "guns everywhere bill" by critics, gives licensed carriers in Georgia more freedom as to where they can take their guns.

Starting July 1, bars will be among the places that concealed-carry permit holders can take their guns without restriction, unless the property owner bans firearms from the premises. Before, guns were legally permitted in bars only if an owner gave the green light.

When the law is activated in two weeks, permit holders also will be allowed to take firearms inside some churches, schools and government buildings, depending on the circumstance.

Estrada said he won't jump the gun by posting any signs that prohibit weapons inside The Loft, though he toyed with the idea in the beginning. He fears that placing a notice in his bar could draw more attention to the issue and be counterproductive. There's nothing stopping people from leaving his bar and returning with a gun they've retrieved from their car, he said.

Instead, for safety, Estrada will continue bringing in a sheriff's deputy on weekends and other security personnel during the rest of the week. Only if there's an incident will Estrada change his policy, he said.

"I'm not going to try to stir it up," the bar owner said. "I'm not going to put signs up. I'm not going to go crazy. I've got deputies at the door. They know the law, and I'm going to let them do their job and we're going to continue to do ours. Business as usual."

Whether other downtown bar and restaurant owners will follow in Estrada's footsteps on the concealed weapons issue is not clear.

"I think the current law makes more sense, but ultimately if someone wants to bring a gun in they're going to regardless of the law," said Matt Flynn, the owner of Still Water Tap Room at 974 Broad St. "We currently allow them, but honestly, I've only had one person ever ask for permission."

Flynn said he's not had an issue involving guns since opening his bar -- a casual spot that features live music -- in 2003. He is, however, leaning toward implementing a new protocol that forbids guns from Still Water.

"We will probably post a "No Weapons" sign just to keep things from becoming the Old West," Flynn said. "I wouldn't think it would affect revenue, but I don't know."

The owners of Whiskey Bar Kitchen and Metro Pub and Coffeehouse are similarly wary of a scenario inside the neighboring Broad Street businesses that includes firearms. Co-owner Kenny Morrison said that although he doesn't have an opinion on the gun-control issue, he wants to promote a "family environment" and will put up a sign barring concealed weapons in both locations.

"Just because there are so many people that come through both places, I would just rather not have that one added element where something could go wrong," Morrison said.


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