Sep 17, 2014

Texas Shies Away from Alcohol at Gun Shows

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Brooks/Flickr.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Brooks/Flickr.

By Andy East
For Reporting Texas and The Dallas Morning News

Last month’s uproar over a proposal to allow alcohol sales at Texas gun shows is prompting state regulators to reconsider the idea.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission staff is recommending that the commission drop the proposal, according the agenda for the Sept. 23 meeting.

“We proposed the rule and got feedback from a lot of people who were against it, so we are recommending it to be withdrawn,” said Carolyn Beck, commission spokesperson.

The commission often follows staff recommendations, but could amend or approve the original proposal if it chooses.

The commission’s Aug. 8 press release outlined a proposal “that would allow alcohol service to continue throughout the gun show if certain requirements are met.” The change was meant to tweak rules to let the Dallas Safari Club serve drinks on the floor of its annual convention, said Martin Wilson, assistant general counsel for the commission. The club was not mentioned in the release.

Current TABC rules prohibit serving alcohol during gun shows at venues licensed by the commission. The new rule would have allowed alcohol consumption if there were no live ammunition, if firearms were disabled and if no guns changed hands during the event.

News media across the country picked up the story. Gun-control advocates and opponents alike reacted, saying the rule change was a bad idea. The National Rifle Association issued a statement opposing it. To some media, the proposal opened a window into Texas culture. Salon magazine headlined its coverage, “Gun nuts’ alcohol debacle: Why their new booze scheme is the scariest yet.”

Comments posted on the commission’s website were mostly critical: “absurd,” “deadly,” a “back door way to gun control.”

“No gun owners are in favor of this,” wrote one person. “This is a covert attempt to shut down gun shows. … If it isn’t broke, do not try to fix it until it is. File this in the trash can where it belongs.”

“In terms of the public comments we’ve received, the big majority of those are against the rule … from people who aren’t necessarily gun advocates and people who are strong gun advocates,” Wilson said. “Neither of those groups really like this.”

Gun shows are big business in Texas, where more than 200 are held annually. Thousands of guns and knives change hands at the events. Background checks for buyers in private exchanges at shows aren’t required in most states, including Texas.

Since August, commissioners and staff have been making it clear that the change wouldn’t automatically make alcohol available at gun shows.

Alice Tripp, legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association, said that organization’s members were more comfortable now that they understood the proposal’s intent.

“Nobody thought, wanted or would allow alcohol sales at their events,” Tripp said. “They wanted to be sure it couldn’t be forced on them.”

Steve Weinberg, a member of the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, is also a government affairs adviser for the Dallas Safari Club. He said the club’s annual convention wasn’t a gun show.

“Last year somewhere near 50,000 people attended,” he said. “There were around 1,500 booths that are more like exhibits. Out of all these booths, a small percentage had guns in them.”

The club auctioned more than $4 million in hunting trips, gear, jewelry and guns at this year’s convention, held in January in Dallas. According to the club, proceeds go to conservation efforts and to fund its mission statement, which includes conservation, education and “protecting hunter’s rights.”

This year’s convention generated controversy when the club auctioned a permit to kill an endangered black rhinoceros in Namibia. The club said the $350,000 result would be given to the Namibian government for conservation work.

Weinberg said he had recused himself from commission consideration of the rule.

Wilson, the associate counsel, said that for 28 years, patrons of the convention purchased alcohol and walked among the exhibits. Two years ago, the alcohol commission forced the club to sell drinks only at restaurants and bars in the Dallas Convention Center.

“They said they wanted to change that and go back to what they were doing the previous 28 years,” Wilson said.

Some gun-control advocates oppose any association between alcohol and guns.

“We’ve already had unintentional shootings at gun shows in Texas this year,” said Claire Elizabeth, spokeswoman of the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Gun Sense in America. “There was one at a gun show outside of Austin in June. If that’s already happening when no alcohol is involved, can you imagine (what will happen) if you add drinking into the mix?”

On June 29, a man accidentally shot and killed his father-in-law outside a Cedar Park, Texas, gun show. Police did not cite alcohol as a cause.