Ronald Robinson’s bar does not have security. And the deaths in Orlando will not change that.
“I’m not going to fall prey to them,” says the 59-year-old bar owner of Larry’s Lounge as to why he will not hire security following the killing of 50 people at a gay nightclub in Florida. The Washington, D.C. gay bar will function normally Sunday night, without pat-downs or metal detectors.
“I’ve already been through a lot of anti-gay in life,” said Robinson, who is gay. “If we sit there and bow down to them, then we lose.”
Robinson sums up the feelings of some gay bar owners. By increasing security, bar owners said it would appear they have been terrorized by the attack.
“Gay bars were the only place where gay people could be with other gay people in a safe space,” said Art Johnston, the 72-year-old owner of Sidetrack, a Chicago, Illinois gay bar known for its showtunes and LGBT activism. Sidetrack has a security staff of at least three people for the 34-year-old bar. Johnston says large items, like backpacks, have been banned for decades, but patrons are not patted-down.
“We’re going to continue to do everything we can to make people comfortable,” he said. “(LGBT people) all understand what it’s like to be under attack.”
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But some bar managers are changing policies, if only slightly, in the wake of Orlando. And night club security experts believe increased screenings and other preventive measures could prevent future attacks—though in regards to the largest mass shooting in American history, they acknowledge the Florida killing was unprecedented.
“It’s not really a one-off. It’s a hundred-off,” said Pat Murphy, an expert witness in nightclub and bar trials from Texas, of the shooting. He said nightclubs and bars need to have robust plans for what to do if there is a shooting.
In a loud, dark environment where many people have been drinking alcohol, staff must be especially prepared to “ approach something that may never happen,” Murphy said.
Murphy and Chris McGoey, a security consultant in Los Angeles who has helped nightclubs manage patrons for 30 years, agreed security officers should not be armed. They also agreed increased screenings could help prevent at least some crimes.
It’s unclear how Omar Mateen, the suspected Orlando shooter, accessed Pulse and whether the club had any screening process.
“Nightclub owners need to have a comprehensive screening process at the door,” McGoey said. Security experts said security screenings, including pat downs or metal detectors, are becoming more common, especially in urban areas. But he acknowledges where that logic ultimately ends.
“Every bar, every club, every store would have to be a version of the airport. We’re not there yet in this country,” McGoey said. “But that’s what this is all about. … To prepare for the worst case scenario, no business will operate if that’s the standard.”
At Cobalt, Brian Blanchard is excited to host the after party for Washington, D.C.’s 2016 Gay Pride celebration this weekend. Cobalt can accommodate 500 people, and Blanchard, the bar’s manager, said he expects it to be full Sunday night.
Cobalt’s security officers always check bags. But tonight, in wake of the shooting, the club will not allow in anything more than a small purse, Blanchard said.
“The next step up would be to do pat-downs,” Blanchard said. “That’s not something you expect when you go to a dance club, but it might have to go to that level.”
Miguel DeCoste views pat-downs as a no-brainer. With 20 years experiencing working in, managing and consulting for the nightclub industry, he said the club environment — drinking, tight spaces, noisy, dark, lots of people moving in different directions — make it even more difficult to prepare for a shooting.
“If someone barges in guns blazing, there’s not a whole heck of a lot you can do,” DeCoste said.