‘Restaurant Carry’: What Would the Founders Say?

18c guns


In this year’s Best & Worst of the General Assembly (and here’s a polite reminder that you can download your electronic copy here), we discussed a S.308 that would allow holders of concealed weapons permits, or CWPs, to carry their side arms into restaurants that serve alcohol. The bill passed Senate and House by fairly comfortable margins, though not without debate. The bill although passed once already is back before the senate for consideration of amendments. (The bill was far more controversial in the news media than it was in the legislature.)

Assuming the bill becomes law, CWP holders will not be legally allowed to consume alcoholic beverages while carrying in restaurants, and will not be allowed to carry firearms into restaurants that post signs prohibiting weapons. South Carolina is currently only one of three states that impose an across-the-board prohibition on CWP holders carrying firearms into establishments that serve alcohol.

What would the signers of the Declaration and Constitution think of such legislation? Inasmuch as they saw fit to enumerate a right to keep and bear arms near to the top of the Bill of Rights – second only to the First Amendment’s freedoms of speech, the press, assembly, and religion – it seems likely that such as bill as this would perplex them, implying as it does a prior restriction on keeping and bearing arms. After all, one of the principal events that began the American Revolution was an attempted seizure of arms by the Royal Governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage.

Even if one argues that the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms is predicated on the existence of a “well regulated milita,” the American Founders still believed that a well-armed citizenry was “necessary to the security of a free state.” “To preserve liberty,” wrote Richard Henry Lee, “it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.” Thomas Jefferson thought a man should always to have a gun at hand: “A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprize, and independance [sic] to the mind. Games played with the ball and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.”

(It may help to recall Arming America, a book published in 2000. Initially acclaimed by reviewers sympathetic to gun control policies, the book contended that gun ownership was rare during the founding era and that America’s “gun culture” only grew up later. This of course would suggest that the original intent of the Second Amendment isn’t what it appears. However, Arming America  was roundly discredited when it was discovered that the author had fabricated much of his evidence.)

Constitutionally sound though S.308 may be, the fact that it had to be passed at all is an indication of just how removed the state law code is in important respects from the principles of the nation’s founding.

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