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Guns and booze? Proposal to allow alcohol sales at Texas gun shows causes confusion

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Texas gun shows sell firearms and ammunition, but alcohol has never been available at the events, even when the facility has a license to sell it. Photo by Jordan Matter

In an unexpected move, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Committee is considering allowing booze at gun shows for the first time. The news has been met by confusion from some gun-rights advocates, who insist they don't want alcohol at their events. 

The TABC submitted the proposed changes to alcohol sales at gun-related events on August 8, kicking off a 30-day period of public comment. The changes also cover historical reenactments, ceremonial display of firearms, and any event where guns are sold — including fundraising auctions. 

Current rules dictate that TABC-licensed venues must not sell alcohol during occasions where guns are sold or handled. But the proposed changes would mean alcohol could be sold if the firearms were disabled, there was no live ammunition present and no one "took possession" of a gun purchased at the event. 

 "Nobody wants it, and nobody asked for it," says Alice Tripp of the Texas State Rifle Association.

TABC spokesperson Carolyn Beck says the changes were drafted after a gun show in Dallas contacted the organization about wanting to sell alcohol. "We tried to outline rules that would mitigate some of the inherent risk of mixing alcohol with guns." 

That's not a conversation all gun enthusiasts are interested in, however. Alice Tripp is the legislative director of the Texas State Rifle Association, and she has zero interest in adding alcohol sales at gun shows. 

"Nobody wants it, and nobody asked for it," Tripp says.

Tripp says she's confident that no gun show promoter asked about selling alcohol at gun shows because it would effectively shut them down. The main purpose of a gun show, after all, is to buy guns and ammunition. "You can't postpone taking possession of a firearm at a gun show or prohibit live ammunition," Tripp says.

Instead, she believes the impetus for the change came from the Dallas Safari Club.

"It was a request for a rules review by the Dallas Safari Club that ran amuck," Tripp says. "I have to believe that these are unintended consequences. I have legislators who are calling TABC and saying this is not acceptable." 

Beck couldn't recall the name of the organization that contacted the TABC, but she insisted the request was "specific to gun shows" and was not about a fundraising dinner with a firearm for auction.

Ben Carter, executive director of the Dallas Safari Club, would not comment on whether his organization initiated contact with the TABC or what role it may have played in the proposed rule change. He did say the club has hosted an "annual fundraising expo" since 1983. Alcohol is served at the event, which includes firearms on display and sometimes for auction. 

 "I think people are reading more into this than it is," says Dallas Safari Club executive director Ben Carter.

Because the weapons are disabled, there is no live ammunition present and no one leaves the event with a gun in hand, Carter says the club already complies with the proposed changes, as well as the current regulations for ceremonial display of firearms. 

"I don't understand why everyone is up in arms about it, so to speak," Carter says. "If guns are disabled, and there's no live round ammunition, I don't see where the danger is." 

For her part, Tripp is troubled by the very idea that the TABC is looking into gun shows. "There has not been a change to state law that would cause these rules to be updated and revised," Tripp says. "Everything that is already in place has been that way for a couple of decades.

"You have to ask, what problem are we trying to fix? Because we are actually creating a big one." 

Beck says the TABC has already received "a lot of great feedback" on the proposal, which went live just three days ago. "Initially we didn't take into consideration gun shows that wanted to continue to operate under the current rules and suspend alcohol sales. We still have plenty of time to look at both options." 

Carter says he's "absolutely" in favor of the changes, and he doesn't believe the new rules will have any impact on gun shows. 

"I think people are reading more into this than it is. It doesn't change anything with existing guns shows as far as I can tell. If they are not selling alcohol, then they aren't in violation of anything." 

If alcohol sales were added to current conditions at gun shows, however, Carter would have some reservations. "Now that's different. That would make me nervous," he says. 

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TABC's public hearing on the proposed amendments is at 1:30 pm Tuesday, August 19, in the commission meeting room at TABC headquarters located at 5806 Mesa Dr. in Austin. Anyone wishing to speak on the matter is encouraged to attend. Comments may be submitted in writing to Martin Wilson, assistant general counsel, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, at P.O. Box 13127, Austin, Texas 78711-3127 or by email at martin.wilson@tabc.state.tx.us.

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