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Bar debate deserves calm, reason

Tomorrow Natchez aldermen are expected to meet in a work session to discuss — among other things — whether or not city bars should be allowed to be open after 2 a.m. or not.

Currently bars are not restricted in any way and can remain open as long as they’d like.

Aldermen have proposed closing bars at 2 a.m. Their intent is to try and curb what they believe to be increasing problems with violence at some bars.

It’s true that fights and other violence, including shootings, have occurred inside and immediately outside of several bars.

But the worry of how to stop this childish, but dangerous behavior is at question.

Aldermen seem to be doing the one thing they feel is in their power to do — change the law.

Their logic seems to be: if the problems often occur after 2 a.m. when a night of drinking has rendered the fighters quite inebriated, then shut down the bars before that happens and the problems go away.

That’s a nice thought, but it may not be practical. It’s a little like saying that if speeding is a problem on a roadway, just lower the speed limit and the problem will go away. The problem in both cases isn’t the laws already on the books, but the lack of enforcement of the laws already existing.

Some bar owners are upset over the possibility of being told what to do and, they say, the loss of business.

It’s unclear to me exactly how much of those bars’ business actually occurs between 2 a.m. and sunup.

Perhaps it’s significant enough to be detrimental to their business, perhaps not.

On the surface, closing the bars at 2 a.m. isn’t a big deal to me personally or likely to the great majority of residents or tourists, either.

As in most cases, the laws are aimed to stop bad behavior of a small minority of citizens.

City aldermen likely will face serious criticism at Monday’s meeting from people who will make the issue out to be much bigger and much more dire than it may actually be.

That’s why city leaders — and citizens — should seek to understand one another before making knee-jerk reactions in either direction.

A change in the existing laws should not come without careful, reasoned study.

Questions worth asking include:

What role do the Natchez Police and the city court system play in the perceived problems? Is the police force adequately equipped to handle the problems and hold a firm line on enforcement?

The same could be said for the court system. Will people convicted of fighting and causing disturbances receive the maximum sentence or a slap on the wrist?

What responsibility do bar owners have for the problems that happen both inside their businesses and the spillover into the streets? Should they be mandated to provide their own security in an effort to curb the drunken fights and other ill behavior?

Clearly some good can come out of a constructive discussion on Monday and action — in some form or another — that comes from the understanding that both sides of the issue share much in common.

Both sides should seek to allow business — including the affected bars — to thrive in the city while the rights of all residents and bar patrons are respected and protected.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.

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