Just inside the front door of The Player’s Retreat, Raleigh’s landmark 62-year-old bar, hangs a sign meant to discourage any Wild West saloon antics: “No Weapons,” it says, with a pistol inside the first O and a knife inside the second.
Owner Gus Gusler posted it there two years ago for sanity’s sake.
“Any rational person has got to understand it’s not a cool thing to mix guns and booze,” he explained.
You don’t sell whiskey to people packing heat. You don’t hold a Sunday brunch on the patio on Oberlin Road, around the corner from LocoPops, when your patrons are holding pistols along with their silverware. You don’t show ACC basketball games with pitchers of beer sloshing when there’s a chance somebody might down one too many and start shooting.
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Then on Tuesday, the General Assembly made matters tricky.
The House and Senate passed a bill that, among other things, made it legal to carry concealed weapons inside of restaurants and bars that serve alcohol, unless the places explicitly say no. Patrons with concealed weapons can’t drink while they carry, but they won’t be barred entry where booze is sold.
The idea bothered Gusler. How could he keep guns out of the PR, a family place? How could he know which customers had them? How could he be sure they wouldn’t take a sip with a gun hidden somewhere? What happened if somebody started shooting? Would he be liable? Would he be insured? Should he put up a metal detector? He asked these questions on the PR’s Facebook page, and an avalanche shook through the bar.
In a little more than a day, his initial post drew more than 300 likes, 400 comments and something in the neighborhood of 28,000 views – turning Raleigh’s oldest bar into ground zero for the gun-control debate. Comments ranged from outrage over infringed rights to vigorous thanks for making the PR a gun-free zone.
“Close up shop and move to New York, California, Connecticut, NJ or Mass.,” wrote Don Beckman. “Good grief. Get head out of the sand. No problem serving alcohol to people who then get behind a 3000 lbs projectile. Seriously, leave!”
“For every sad, illiterate blowhard threatening to pull their business from PR for having opinions different than theirs, I’ll try to make up for it twofold,” wrote Katherine Elizabeth, adding, “I’d rather get strip searched at every bar I enter than not know if a drunk weapon-carrier was there.”
Ban on fighting
The PR could hardly be described as a rowdy place. As unofficial Wolfpack fan headquarters, its patrons date to the Everett Case teams of the 1950s. Get in a fight inside Gusler’s bar, which he’s owned for nearly eight years, and you’re banned for life – even if you didn’t start it.
Still, Gusler’s Facebook post drew promises from some that they would boycott.
“I will make sure not to darken your door again,” wrote Paul Valone of the nonprofit firearms rights group Grass Roots North Carolina, “and will consider asking a few thousand of my best friends to do the same.” Others suggested that anybody who takes the trouble to obtain a concealed-carry permit, with all of its background checks, wouldn’t risk it by drinking.
“That permit is important to them, important enough not to jeopardize that right over a beer,” wrote Montie Roland. “They aren’t the ones you have to worry about. It’s the thugs and criminals that are the problem. The thugs and criminals are going to carry in there no matter what you do.”
Many others cheered Gusler’s stance and promised to make up any lost business by doubling their own.
“If you can’t go out for a burger without packing,” asked Jennifer Strum, “perhaps you should just stay home?”
Gusler checked with a lawyer, who said he could be liable in a shooting. He checked with his insurer, who said he wouldn’t be covered.
‘Whole family has guns’
In the end, Gusler won’t put up metal detectors. But he will keep his sign at the front door. And he will ask that you seek refreshment, alcoholic and otherwise, with nothing more lethal than your appetite.
“My whole family has guns,” said Gusler. “But I don’t want them in here when people are drinking alcohol.”
I don’t, either. I’ve got two close family members who wear guns openly, and I’ve worked for an editor who carried a concealed pistol both on his person and in his truck. So I ain’t squeamish. All things in their time and place.
But here’s one more thing to think about before you judge Gusler. Unless an establishment says otherwise, you can carry a concealed gun into a bar in North Carolina. But there’s still a place in Raleigh where you can’t.
The General Assembly.