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News for Southeastern Arizona, provided by the University of Arizona School of Journalism

Guns blazing: Another bar shooting raises concerns

Tim Loomis, owner of Tombstone’s Big Iron Shooting Gallery, stands outside his gun vault. (Photo by: Elise McClain/Arizona Sonora News)

Tourists gather eagerly outside the historic O.K. Corral, drawn by the promise of “Gunfights Daily!” Billboards entering Tombstone advertise the lawless intrigue, drama and violence of Old West culture.

And yet, beneath the magnetism of local lore, America’s Second Amendment City grapples with striking a balance between real and re-enacted violence.

As of Jan. 29, the small town has played host to its second shooting in almost as many months. According to Tombstone Marshal’s Office press releases, the shootings on both Jan. 29 and Oct. 13, 2017, took place outside the Doc Holliday’s Saloon and occurred as a result of ineffective gun policies in the bar. Both incidents resulted in leg wounds.

“The issue in both cases was that patrons were allowed to carry weapons into the bar, drink, and then leave with their weapon the same day,” Tombstone Marshal Bob Randall said.

Doc Holliday’s, until recently, was the only saloon in town that maintained a policy of “checking” weapons with the bartender before drinking.

“The bar decided to keep their policy in place after the first shooting, but after the second shooting, they decided to change it,” Randall said.

According to Noreen Carrafa, owner of Doc Holliday’s, the bar’s changing gun policy comes as a result of concern for the safety of the bar’s customers and staff.

“We used to allow our customers to check prop guns and unloaded guns,” Carrafa said. “Our policy now is no weapons whatsoever — guns or knives.”

Previously, Doc Holliday’s followed Arizona state statute A.R.S. 4-244, which states that patrons are allowed to carry weapons — concealed or otherwise — into establishments serving spirituous liquor, as long as the weapon is unloaded and the customer does not consume alcohol. And while Doc Holliday’s technically adhered to state gun laws by asking patrons to “check” their weapons before drinking, they bore no control over what happened outside their establishment once the firearms were returned.

For Gordon Anderson, owner of the Larian Motel, gun safety is vitally important. As a key player in helping Tombstone become America’s Second Amendment City, Anderson remains adamant that guns and alcohol are a dangerous combination.

“I’m hopeful after this last shooting that the bars will say ‘no more guns’,” Anderson said. “I think it was a matter of choice for the owner of Doc Holliday’s, but guns and alcohol simply don’t mix. They chose to allow people with guns inside… I think that’s because some people coming into these bars like the idea of bringing their guns in with them — like how they did in the Old West. But that’s just not safe.”

And as Doc Holliday’s adapts its gun policies to meet the needs of Tombstone, other local businesses are stepping forward to help accommodate the prospective changes.

“The bars in Tombstone do not allow any kind of weapon on your person,” said Tim Loomis, owner of Big Iron Shooting Gallery. “Not anymore anyway.”

Following the January shooting, Loomis saw an opportunity to make the community safer while also maintaining the Old West atmosphere.

“After the shootings happen, I tried to think of ways to help,” Loomis said. “I now run a check service for anybody that wants to go into one of the bars. They come here, drop their guns off and I put it in my vault for $5. It’ll stay in the vault until they come back to retrieve it. Obviously, anyone who’s inebriated won’t get the gun back until the next day. ”

In cases of particular concern — where patrons are particularly disorderly — Loomis explained that the firearm would be turned over the marshal’s office and the weapon would become the concern of local law enforcement.

“People come here all the time thinking it’s going to be just like the Old West,” Loomis said. “But it’s like, ‘No,guys. We still have to follow state law. Safety has to come first.’”

For locals and tourists alike, the shooting incidents of the past several months have had little to no effect on business or daily life.

“Tourists don’t seem to know much about the shootings, just whatever they might read in the papers,” Randall said. “Whatever they do know doesn’t seem to bother them though. It’s had no effect on tourism.”

For Tombstone and its citizens, it remains important to maintain the allure of Old West gun culture, while also taking all necessary safety precautions to protect visitors and locals alike.

“The tourists, they like the gunfights. They like the shows,” Anderson said. “And I think a lot of locals come here for the history, maybe not the guns, but definitely for the history. In any case, I think it’s important to celebrate that history, but to celebrate it safely.”

Elise McClain is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at evmcclain@email.arizona.edu.

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