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​MENNINGER: Shamrocks, smiles and the ABC

The unconcealed carrying of firearms by Alcoholic Beverage Control officers instills fear in the public

When most students think of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on Grounds, shamrocks, amazing outfits and lasting memories come to mind, but on Mar. 17 countless students suffered the contrary as they cowered before threatening Alcoholic Beverage Control officers.

Around midnight several ABC officers roamed throughout the streets and crammed through the bars in search of underage drinkers. As many students witnessed, these officers, some of whom were openly strapped with guns, took underage drinkers out of the bar and caught several eager partygoers before their nights even began.

While their cause to uphold the law is noble, should we not question their actions and supreme authority? Certainly those who wish to test their luck with a fake ID should not complain when punished, but a visible firearm is not necessary for successful punishment.

Let us think about the true purpose of ABC officers. As is stated on the official ABC website: officers work “to ensure that adults of the legal age who choose to responsibly consume alcohol can do so in a safe environment.”

This statement is vague, but it implies officers should focus primarily on ensuring that institutions where drinking occurs adhere to the law. Officers should refrain from solely seeking to punish the individuals who violate such alcohol-related laws.

However, on St. Patrick’s Day it seemed as though ABC officers wanted nothing but to punish underage drinkers. As we saw from Martese Johnson’s arrest, ABC officers did not hesitate to assert their power over individuals. While officers might have followed suit and condemned the actions of bars later, it certainly appeared as though they placed a greater stress on punishing individuals.

In fact, as officers demonstrated their supreme power over students over two weeks ago, they accomplished the exact opposite of their creed. They instilled fear in the general public — not only in underage drinkers, but in all nightlife attendees.

Think — why must ABC officers on a college campus carry firearms into otherwise safe bars? Apart from a few drunken fights, the bars on the Corner provide relatively safe drinking environments. Certainly some people might have concealed carry permits, but the lack of gun-related incidents on the Corner in recent history suggests a scarcity of firearms there. Openly carrying weapons on the corner through bars, regardless of one’s status, causes more harm (fear) than it does good.

Only more bad could come from ABC officers carrying unconcealed weapons. Instead, ABC officers should carry a concealed firearm which would still ensure the safety of the ABC officer and others but would do so in a less threatening way.

For example, imagine if a drunkard were to lunge for an ABC officer’s pistol. While in most cases the officer would surely subdue the insurrectionist, the situation could go awry. A large fight could erupt or worse — the gun could come loose. In either case, surrounding, responsible legal drinkers could suffer unintended harm.

I completely support policemen and what they stand for, but I also know the job of the police, or in this case that of an ABC officer, is to resolve the given situation with the least amount of physical force required. Carrying an openly visible firearm does not accomplish this goal, and furthermore unnecessarily asserting physical dominance over someone only creates more fear in the public.

Specifically, I am referring to the Martese Johnson incident, in which onlookers unfortunately witnessed an egregious and unnecessary display of power. Whether they were walking to get late night food or waiting in line at the bar, the event surely left an ingrained image on their heads for the rest of the night: not one of the law, but one of fear for abuse of the law.

The ABC presence that Tuesday did more to instill fear than to enforce the law. In the past, ABC officers have come to bars disguised as regular party goers and, when necessary, used their badge and power to remove certain individuals from the bar. This method of disguise is a much better way of accomplishing their goal, but it still places a greater emphasis on the individual than on the institution. Certainly some will slip through the cracks of ID checking, but if ABC officers sought to improve ID checking methods, fewer underage drinkers would have access to bars — thus truly accomplishing the goal of the ABC of promoting a safe environment for legal drinkers in a legal institution.

Nate Menninger is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at n.menninger@cavalierdaily.com.

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