Jenkins: At popular Raleigh pub, an owner says no to guns

jim.jenkins@newsobserver.comJuly 31, 2013 

How has the Republican majority in the General Assembly done damage? With a bow to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, let me count the ways. (Note to the gun-totin’ crowd: Browning was a 19th century poet, not a brand of firearm.)

But surely one of the most ridiculous has to be easing gun regulations, which already were too lax. The gun lobby didn’t force the Republicans on Jones Street to stand at attention or march in formation or salute, at least that we know of, but the GOP bowed to its bidding nonetheless.

Confronted with changes that in his view would allow gun-toting types to come to his restaurant (as long as they didn’t drink alcohol), Gus Gusler, attorney and owner of Raleigh’s Players Retreat, went on Facebook to solicit the views of his customers. Bottom line: We don’t want people with guns in the PR and we’ll be willing to go through a metal detector if that’s what it takes.

That’s not going to be what it takes, Gusler says, but he’s been interested in and gratified by the response he’s gotten, which was boosted to no small degree by the initial report on this from my colleague Josh Shaffer, who broke the story last week.

To gauge the reaction, I dropped by the PR every day last week to see if any demonstrators showed up with signs demanding their right to pack. There were none. The staff did see new people sitting at outside tables.

Gusler said his staff told him that people at about 10 different tables over several days asked to talk to him. “In every case, they said, ‘We’ve never been here but we read that story and we are here tonight to show our support,’” he said.

There were 40,000 hits on Gusler’s Facebook post. The pro-packing response was only a handful. “Three or so put up responses – and this is on Facebook, now, – that they had been in the place carrying their weapons, but now they were gonna go somewhere else to drink,” Gusler said. “The problem is, if they did that, they were breaking the law as it now stands. We noticed they took their posts down pretty quickly.”

In his 40 years at the PR, first as a cook (while at N.C. State) and now as owner, Gusler said he has not seen one act of violence in the PR, which he’s turned in recent years into a family place where it is not uncommon, particularly on Sunday afternoons, to see the outside dining area full of kids.

“The people who want these laws talk about how everybody’s safer if there’s a responsible person with a gun in the place...what if you get robbed, all that,” Gusler said. “The last thing that I need is somebody comes in to rob us and there’s a gun battle.”

Indeed, that’s the hole in the “you’ll allbesafer with a pistol packer in the restaurant” theory. Not everyone with a concealed carry permit is Wyatt Earp. A training course is required, but it is not at the level of what police officers receive, for example.

Another irony in what the North Carolina General Assembly and others have done is that relaxing gun laws is pandering to a powerful lobbying group that is in a woeful minority when it comes to public opinion. (Gusler said the response to his Facebook post asking customers their opinions has been 90 percent on his side.) Despite overwhelming public support for stronger gun regulation in the wake of the Newtown murders, Congress tucked tail and ran when the time came. It was an embarrassing display of political cowardice. In fact, it was just plain cowardice.

So now, restaurant owners, and for that matter universities and parks and recreation people and all manner of individuals and groups who watch over areas where the public gathers, have to ponder what in the world they can do to cope with laws that will allow guns where they haven’t even been contemplated.

It is a sorry, sorry mess. “A lot of restaurant owners have called me to thank me for speaking up,” Gusler said. “But this is not a political issue, not a liberal-conservative issue. It’s a common-sense safety issue, and that’s all it is or ought to be.”

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at

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