Palmer Republican Rep. Scott Ogan's measure to standardize bar closures is designed to thwart those sly fellows who travel to other communities that stay open later as well as to impede this culinary "recipe for disaster." Our own police captain states it is "something worth considering," albeit "Juneau has not experienced a large spike in assaults and domestic violence between 2-5 a.m." On the other hand "police have seen an increase in accidents that could be alcohol-related." Well, are they or not?
Rep. Ogan should spend more time in the bars and less time cruising with troopers to get a better feel for how many responsible drinkers are out there as well as bartenders and patrons who would chase after him and take his keys. They are out there in greater numbers than they are being credited for.
Whether through police presence, the threat of being labeled a problem drinker or the distance required to travel to the local pub, our taverns are not choked with patrons until the wee hours of the morning, contrary to popular belief. Establishments not designed to hold the maximum number of drinkers will likely disappear from the forefront in the not too distant future. Before MADD members uncork their bottled water, though, let me tell you what is taking their place.
Homebound revelers are entertaining more. Pool tables are being installed and shelves are being stocked. Children and teens are being exposed to this adult behavior and, there being no enforced closing time, travelers are oozing onto the road from any number of side streets. The host at home, assuming he/she is also consuming, is a poor substitute for a sober, experienced bartender. How more likely is a drunk friend going to let a friend drive drunk? Police are getting less results from trolling Juneau's drinking establishments at closing time. The results are predictable. Without the social restraints one encounters in the local taverns, drinkers are becoming more volatile, and our streets are not necessarily safer at closing time based on the "catch."
Addressing the impacts of alcohol in our community is absolutely essential. I have witnessed terrible consequences over my life here, and not just the loss of a loved one to a drunk driver. Lives are literally being destroyed by those who beat their women and abuse children. One reason domestic violence occurs at home is because those who would beat their loved ones do not have the courage to face the consequences of doing it in public. Alcohol, though, gets the blame for a lot of things it did not do. Any grown man who would use violence to terrorize a loved one is doing it sober as well. His fuse is just shorter under the influence and damages tend to be greater.
But to remove local control from the debate is not a viable solution and Rep. Ogan's good intentions do little to address the many problems associated with alcohol. Yes, fewer drunk drivers will be joining the earlier commuters, and if the data showed a problem in this area his measure may have merit. Personally, I would be hard pressed to differentiate erratic driving behavior from the commuters racing to work. Better to discourage bars from announcing last call 10 minutes before the tables are cleared. This practice does more to spike the alcohol content in those who had paced themselves than anything I have witnessed, and the effects are felt on the way home.
Rep. Ogan has a problem with some errant constituents in his district and desires to paint us all with the same wide legislative brush rather than build a consensus among local district leaders to address local problems. Then again perhaps this was unsuccessful. Any solution must address real world human nature. Chasing patrons from our establishments earlier will not curtail the social drinker or addict to any significant degree warranting this statewide mandate. It is the same mindset adults apply to highschoolers, that is, a few will determine the policy affecting all.
I suggest he speak more to the responsible patron or bartender in lieu of the occasional miscreant sitting in a trooper's cruiser.
Ken Dunker is a longtime resident of Juneau and "a devoted reader of the Empire's op-ed section."
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