PHOENIX – There was a time in the Wild West that cowboys had to check their guns before they could pull up a bar stool for a drink — rules that protected against the saloon gunfights that came to define the frontier era in places like Arizona.
But a bill moving through the Arizona Legislature has some bar owners fearful that the state is turning back the clock to the Old West. Lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow anyone with a concealed-weapons permit to bring a handgun into bars and restaurants serving alcohol.
The bill gives bars discretion to keep gun-toting patrons out, and anyone with a weapon would not be allowed to drink. But the bill has angered bar owners who believe booze and guns are a recipe for disaster.
"This might be one of the stupidest things that I have heard of," said Mike Nelson, who owns Pomeroy's bar in Phoenix and plans to post a sign on his front door outlawing guns in his bar as soon as possible. "Can you think of a single reason guns and alcohol should be intertwined?"
The bill is part of a nationwide push by the National Rifle Association. Georgia passed a similar law in 2008, as did Tennessee earlier this year in becoming the 40th state to allow bar or restaurant patrons to carry guns.
"These laws are common sense," said NRA spokeswoman Rachel Parsons. "Restaurants are not immune to criminal activity. Law-abiding people — regardless of whether they're in restaurants, cars or homes — they should be able to protect themselves against criminal attack."
One of the bill's sponsors, Republican Rep. John Kavanagh, said it's about time Arizona passes such a law, and that the most important thing is that people carrying guns into bars aren't allowed to drink.
"You don't want intoxicated people with weapons, and this bill continues the prohibition against drinking and carrying," said Kavanagh, a retired police officer in New York and New Jersey. "What is the problem with having a gun in a delicatessen where someone is having a beer with their pastrami two tables away?"
The law would only apply to people with concealed-weapons permits because lawmakers say that type of gun owner has to pass a background check and take an eight-hour course to get their permits, and are therefore safer. More than 127,000 Arizonans have concealed-weapons permits, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Arizonans are also allowed to openly carry guns — on a belt or holster, for example. But those people would still not be allowed in bars or restaurants serving alcohol if they're armed.
The bill has been approved by the Senate and is now before the House; Republican Gov. Jan Brewer would still have to OK it.
Marc Peagler, owner of the Silver Spur Saloon Restaurant in Cave Creek outside Phoenix, said he's in favor of the legislation and sees some marketing potential in it.
"I look at it this way — let's just say for a moment you're a crook or a thief," Peagler said. "Are you going to break into a place where you know that there might be 10 to 15 people who are armed? I wouldn't do that."
Peagler, a gun owner himself, said people with concealed-weapons permits aren't people to be concerned about.
"People who carry concealed weapons for the most part are your general law-abiding citizens, and the people who are going to break the law are going to do it no matter what laws we have out there," he said. "If somebody has been drinking and they have a weapon in the car, they're just going to go out and get it."
Frank Murray, owner of Seamus McCaffrey's Irish Pub & Restaurant in downtown Phoenix, said he opposes the law and will prohibit his customers from coming in armed.
"It's kind of like the Wild West days," he said. "We've got enough nuts out on the street walking around with guns. We don't need them in places with alcohol and families."
The Arizona Licensed Beverage Association threw its support behind the bill after some compromises were made this week. The Arizona Restaurant Association has taken a neutral stance, but in previous years came out against most bills that would have allowed guns in bars and restaurants with alcohol.
This year's bill is one of several measures loosening gun laws moving through the Arizona Legislature.
In May, the House overwhelmingly approved a bill that would permit gun owners to keep a weapon out of sight in a locked vehicle in a parking lot or garage. That would override employers that ban weapons on their property.
Last week, a Senate committee approved a bill that would allow Arizonans to carry concealed weapons without state permits, despite objections from law enforcement.