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Our Opinion

Our Opinion: Skin in this game? Everybody's got it.

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In a memorable scene from the western “Tombstone,” Kurt Russell (as Wyatt Earp) slaps a loudmouthed bully (Billy Bob Thornton) several times and dares him to draw.

Then he grabs the bully by the lobe of an ear and literally kicks him out of a casino.

Only in the movies.

Reality is not as easy as all that or as entertaining.

In reality, private citizens can’t take the law into their own hands like that (Earp isn’t a sworn lawman at the time) or threaten gunplay in a public place with little regard for bystanders.

But some people still try — even in Greensboro, where a proposed new public safety ordinance has taken on added urgency after at least three stabbings during an outbreak of fighting on April 11 that spilled from inside a downtown bar onto a city street, followed by a succession of gunshots.

Tranquilo, a bar and restaurantat 221 S. Elm St., has since had its alcohol permits suspended.

The incident at the bar was not the first — in November of 2020 fights broke out there and pepper spray reportedly was used — but the April 11 brawl, which involved about 20 people and may be gang-related, was the scariest.

A manager at a nearby restaurant, where many of the Tranquilo customers had fled during the fighting, said he heard 20 gunshots.

To be fair, Tranquilo has not been the only trouble spot, nor is this solely a downtown problem. But the incident provides a timely, if unwanted, case study. It occurred less than two weeks before the first of two public forums sponsored by the city to seek input on the ordinance.

One of the toughest questions both the public and the council will consider is how responsible a business is for attracting a violence-prone clientele.

But something needs to be done. Bad actors make it harder for neighboring businesses. When gunshots ring out and fleeing crowds seek refuge in your restaurant, that doesn’t exactly encourage customers to call again. And in both April and November, the fighting overflowed into the street and blocked entrances to other businesses.

As COVID restrictions gradually lift and nightlife begins to ramp up again, city leaders are right to be concerned. Even the industry sees a need. A proposal drafted by the N.C. Bar Owners Association suggests such strategies as:

Encouraging clubs and bars to work with reputable promoters.

Requiring promoters who hold events in city venues to obtain permits that certify background checks, insurance coverage and a contract with a licensed and bonded security company.

Making police officers “visible in entertainment corridors during peak hours and in close proximity to large events.”

Requiring in-house security plans and training.

To the city’s credit, it crumpled and threw away a draft proposal of its own that had been floated in the fall. That ordinance “is off the table,” Mayor Nancy Vaughan said last week. The city rightly has decided instead to start from scratch, with a blank slate.

The second of the two virtual town hall meetings on the issue, both led by Vaughan, was held May 10. Both sessions have raised some good questions, among them:

How do you deal with clubs that have no parking of their own?

Are existing laws being enforced as strictly as they should be?

Will the city and law enforcement overreach and overreact?

What if something happens on your property that involves patrons from another club?

Then there’s the impact of third parties. “Promoters are a concern,” one participant said last week. “They don’t have skin in the game in the sense of brick and mortar.”

If there was any prevailing theme during the meetings, it was that everybody has “skin in the game” — that clubs need to consider their impact on their neighbors.

And that these businesses employ people, pay taxes and provide entertainment.

At the same time, public safety cannot be compromised and patterns of violent incidents have to be addressed.

What comes next, the mayor said, is a draft proposal based on the public and stakeholder input. That’s when sharper disagreements are likely to arise. There’s no way everyone will be happy with the final result.

But it’s better to come up with lasting solutions that at least most of the parties — the City Council, police and bar and club owners and the general public — can buy into rather than to rush a policy onto the books that no one likes or supports.

Remember what became of that last city nightlife ordinance?

Neither do most people.

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