Barring younger patrons will not make clubs safer

On February 6, 2012

After shootings occurred at two Tampa area nightclubs in October and November last year, the Tampa City Council is considering options that would ban patrons under 21 from attending clubs.

Currently, customers between the ages of 18 and 20 can attend clubs but cannot drink alcohol, a law that has made for Thursday and Friday night traditions for USF students at clubs such as Czar and Acropolis.

The proposed ban was motivated by an Empire Night Club shooting that left Leslie Jones Jr., 20, dead, and Ahmaud Black, 19, seriously wounded, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

While it is tragic that the two victims were under 21, the shootings have less to do with the victims' ages and more to do with the clubs' reputations and lack of security. Merely banning those under 21 from nightclubs won't solve the problem - it will only bar the younger customers from nightlife and raise future victims' ages.

Empire later added an "airport-grade" metal detector, according to the Tampa Bay Times, the type of security measure that might have prevented the shootings. The club has since closed down, after protests led by Jones' mother and the economic dive the club took in the aftermath of the shooting. Empire was also notorious for gang violence, a reputation that many other clubs in Tampa and Ybor City do not carry.

Meanwhile, only one of five victims of November shootings at Club Manilla in Ybor was under 21. Simply raising the age limit for clubs in Tampa wouldn't appear to curb any violence.

Changing the laws may also decrease business in Ybor if the clubs lose their 18- to20-year-old patrons. As legal adults, these patrons should be allowed to make their own decisions, such as dancing and socializing at a nightclub, as long as they refrain from drinking, violence and other illegal activities.

One suggested change in the Tampa City Council that might actually reduce the problem is to update business rules and require additional security. Currently, clubs established before 1995 are not required to hire extra-duty officers, according to the Times. This regulation would include Empire, which was established in 1993. Clubs are also only required to increasesecurity if their club's occupancy is 250 or more. This means that clubs that admit 1,000 people are only required to hire the same number of extra-duty officers as a club with 250 people.

In the case of Club Manilla, officers were stationed in their cars at the time of the shooting. Bringing the officers inside the club or stationing them at the door can help deter patrons from bringing guns into bars. Stricter regulations on admittance and better metal detector systems can also help combat the program.

When it comes to Tampa nightclubs, ruling out the 18- to 20-year-olds won't make adifference in safety, but stepping up security will.

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