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Louisville may shift last call to 2 a.m. Will that help address gun violence?

Long exposure shot of Bardstown Road at dusk. A streak of tail lights and headlights cuts through the center of the image beneath traffic lights. Cars and buildings line the street.
Scott Smithson
/
Creative Commons
Bardstown Road is home to several bars that stay open past midnight.

Louisville officials are exploring whether limiting how late bars stay open can make a dent in gun violence. Experts say simply moving up closing times isn’t the best approach.

The city’s 4 a.m. last call makes it unique among its regional peers such as Nashville, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. Many bar owners see the later closing as one of Louisville’s strengths, given the city’s economic reliance on tourism and bourbon.

At the Mayor Craig Greenberg’s behest, Metro Council is now discussing whether to move bar closings up from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. But business owners and criminal justice researchers are skeptical such a change would do anything to stop the violence.

Shooting spurs discussion, again

Early Sunday, around 3 a.m, Louisville police responded to a shooting in front of Southern Restaurant and Lounge on West Market Street.

They found one man who had been fatally shot. A second person died at the hospital and five others were injured.

At a press conference later in the day, Mayor Craig Greenberg called the shooting “senseless.”

“Too many families are having to bury their loved ones,” he said. “Too many children are being left without fathers and mothers.”

Greenberg also called on Metro Council members to explore ways to address violence around bars, namely by forcing some of them to close earlier.

“Too many of the incidents happen in the middle of the night when bars and clubs are the only businesses that are still open,” Greenberg said.

City officials have floated this idea before.

Two years ago as a member of the council, Cassie Chambers Armstrong, now a state Senator, released a similar plan. She was likewise motivated by a series of three fatal shootings along Bardstown Road that occurred within a span of two months.

At that time, the proposal faced intense pushback from bar owners, residents and other city officials. Chambers Armstrong eventually backed off changes to Louisville’s last call, opting instead to form a working group that put out a 21-page guide outlining best safety practices for bar owners. Metro Council also funded three additional Alcohol Beverage Control officers focused on late-night establishments.

Today, many bar owners continue to oppose the possible changes.

Zack Pennington, co-owner of the karaoke venue NoraeBar on East Market Street, said he thinks “it’s people looking for a simple solution to a complex problem.”

Pennington acknowledged that some types of crimes tend to occur more often at night. But he said there are much bigger contributors to Louisville’s violent crime crisis, like poverty and lack of affordable housing.

“There’s all these much bigger issues that I think [Metro] Council should be focused on and bar owners should be focused on, but instead we’re squabbling over whether or not bars being open late is a problem,” Pennington said.

The owners of Germantown bars Come Back Inn and ShopBar also said they’re opposed to the city forcing establishments to close earlier. Most bars aren’t open until 4 a.m. A standard liquor license for bars and restaurants in Louisville allows for alcohol sales until midnight. Businesses with an extended hour supplemental license can serve until 4 a.m.

In 2021, about 170 businesses in Louisville had an extended hours license, mostly concentrated in downtown and the Highlands.

Research on the topic is mixed

A 2012 study from Norway found an increase in violent crime in bar districts for each additional hour bars stayed open. The Scandinavian country has among the highest rates of gun ownership in the world, yet one of the lowest gun homicide rates.

John Roman, who heads the Center of Public Safety and Criminal Justice at the University of Chicago, said the relationship between alcohol and violence is “undeniable.” However, he said how late bars are open isn’t really the issue — it’s that they all close at the same time, causing large groups of people to spill out at once.

“You get people drunk and hyped up, you get people who are very inebriated and who are very easy targets, you overwhelm whatever guardianship from police [who] are present,” Roman said. “It’s sort of the perfect recipe for violence.”

Roman said cities can enforce staggered closing times by getting buy-in from bar owners or using liquor license regulations.

Arizona State University criminology professor Michael Scott said closing times are just one variable when it comes to violence around bars. He said bar owners need to address many of the issues: “Is there over serving at the establishment? Are there a lot of weapons that are allowed to be brought into the bar? Do the establishments have a good system for banning trouble makers?”

Scott said local governments can work with bar owners by providing training, guidance and resources. They can also punish those who aren’t acting responsibly.

It’s a more nuanced approach than simply limiting late night hours and would require ongoing conversations.

Officials in Louisville should start by identifying the unique factors contributing to violence here, Scott said.

“There isn’t a single violence problem in a community, there are different forms of it, and what you’re talking about is just one form of violence,” he said.

LPM News reached out to Greenberg’s office to ask what data is informing his proposal around bar closing times.

Greenberg’s spokesperson Kevin Trager did not provide any data or explanation. Instead, he shared a statement from the mayor that his office is “beginning to have conversations with the Metro Council to look at the current ordinances.”

“We will also be seeking community input on the best solutions for ensuring safety at late night bars and clubs,” Greenberg said.

District 4 Metro Council Member Jecorey Arthur, an Independent who represents downtown and surrounding areas, provided data from the Louisville Metro Police Department that shows more shootings happen between before midnight than after.

About a third of all shootings — fatal and nonfatal — this year took place between 8 p.m. and midnight, the data showed. Roughly 22% occurred between midnight and 4 a.m.

Arthur said he thinks the closing time proposal is misguided. He said the city already has gun violence intervention initiatives through the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods that could use additional funding.

“Sometimes we see violence and we react and say ‘What are we going to do?’” Arthur said. “We’re already doing something and we aren’t even succeeding at that.”

Other council members have indicated they’re interested in exploring how to make the city safer. But, like Arthur, they don’t think changing bar closing times will be the solution.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.