Bar owners, patrons faced with 'what if?' after California shooting

Jacksonville bar owner says there's things they can put in place in preparation

By Erik Avanier - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Five off-duty officers were inside the Borderline Bar and Grill in Southern California when gunfire erupted and helped get people escape. Even still, 12 people were killed in the mass shooting.

In Jacksonville, the owner of Rain Dogs bar in Riverside's Five Points district said it's a sign of how difficult it is to anticipate a shooter walking in and opening fire.

Rain Dogs owner Christina Wagner said Thursday bars and nightclubs are supposed to be places where people can relax and enjoy themselves.

"People come here to get away from the worst parts or celebrate the best parts of their life," Wagner said. 

But the shooting at the bar in Thousand Oaks, California, has yet again placed a spotlight on businesses considered soft targets. Celebration can easily turn to tragedy if a gunman were to walk into a nightspot and start shooting. It’s a reality that Wagner said no bar owner can predict but there are things they can put in place in preparation for such an event. She said bar owners have to be ready to make sure people can evacuate from either the front door or the back.

"We’ve always had an escape route and it’s pretty obvious. Everything is lit and everything is ready," Wagner said. "There's double doors and we have gone above and beyond making sure everyone is being safe here."

When it comes to guns, Wagner’s rules are simple. 

"I do not condone people coming in here with firearms. Nor will I ever," she said. "There is no reason for it inside a place where we are serving alcoholic beverages and perceptions are askew."

On the main drag in Five Points, there are bars up and down the street. As far as whether the shooting in California and other recent mass shootings will deter people from wanting to go out to bars and nightclubs, the reaction was mixed. 

"We do live in a scary time where we do have to be more cautious, but I also think we can’t stop living our lives because things like this are happening," Jacksonville resident Cada White said. "So I wouldn’t say I am less like to go out, but definitely more cautious."

In June 2016, 49 people were killed and more than 50 were wounded in the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

In August, two people were killed and nearly a dozen others were injured when gunfire erupted during a Madden tournament at the Good Luck Have Fun Game Bar inside Chicago Pizza at the Jacksonville Landing. 

Late Wednesday evening, 12 people were killed in the attack at Borderline Bar and Grill in California. Authorities said more than a dozen were injured.

"For me, not going is not going to help the situation. It will make my life more miserable," Jacksonville resident Romeo Scarlett said. "So I feel like we should keep a positive vibe and go out there.”

But Quinton King, who was visiting from Southern California, said Wednesday night's mass shooting has given him second thoughts.

"It makes me think about going out now," King said. "You have to be precautions about who’s at the bar and keep your eyes wide open."

Some people in Five Points told News4Jax that they believe better gun control laws could curb the number of mass shootings. 

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