Yesterday I went into one of those mailbox centers that allow you to pay your bills, rent a mailbox and send packages via the best carrier for the money. They also are authorized, some of them, to take fingerprints for the Department of Justice and the FBI. This is the third time I've been fingerprinted so that my prints are matched against criminal records and activity in the FBI's database, but also to have them on file should I do anything wrong with the beer and wine I've been permitted to store for the consumption of the public.
The first time I had to submit to this was when I applied for a liquor license in Montgomery County. I even had to have a photo taken. Before I could sell beer or wine at my restaurant, the county needed some assurance that I would not be of such a criminal mind that I would sell a glass of Chardonnay to a minor or hand a PBR to a 12-year-old.
I couldn't drive a limousine without a card from the Maryland Public Service Commission. I was fingerprinted, photographed, and submitted to a background check. Without these checks, a person of ill-repute might pick you up at the airport in that shiny black sedan and do the unthinkable. I was happy to submit and confident that my fingerprints would not bzzt and buzz through the FBI's computer and churn out mug shots and arrest records.
Recently, I've submitted to the same scrutiny in Southern California. The state has requested a background check for me so that I can pour beer and wine at my west coast spot that is soon to open. And they've also suggested that they might want to look at my bank accounts and tax returns. Do I have the money to open this restaurant? Where is it coming from? Will I be in deep with the bookies and loan sharks and have to sell beer, wine, bath tub gin in order to pay back those wise guys in pin stripes that will otherwise break my knees?
I know I have no choice and it will take days (45 to 60) before I can take the poster out of my storefront window. First, however, I have to mail a letter to every business and resident in a 500 foot radius of my location and inform them -- in five languages -- that I plan to sell beer and wine. These people, if they have legitimate concerns, can object and object loudly enough to send me into a state hearing where I will have to defend my intentions. I've also got to put an advertisement in the local newspaper, so that everyone knows that my restaurant is going to serve beer and wine; you have 30 days to voice your opinion.
I haven't even given a liquor license (the assault weapon of booze permits) a consideration. These are restricted in California -- only a certain amount have been issued state wide and those are all that exist. A license to craft cocktails with the harder stuff -- bourbon, rum, vodka -- I'm told can cost as much as $120,000. It's so far out of my budget that I'm content to serve just beer and wine.
I have held licenses to sell liquor in two jurisdictions already and I know the ropes and received the training. I've been in that long line at the D.C. Business Services and was sent home once or twice because I had this wrong or that not filled out properly. I've gone to 300 C Street and waited in line with job applicants and parolees for my police clearance. I submitted to interrogation by the Board in Montgomery County wanting to know where the booze was going to be stored and explaining my menu item "bucket of beers" only to have them shoot it down as too much consumption at a table. Patience, patience I say to myself and my business partners as we go through this exhausting procedure just so that, like every other restaurant (and in California -- CVS, grocery store, Big Lots) we can serve beer and wine to our customers.
What I haven't ever done is purchase a gun. And I'm not quite sure that folks that buy guns these days go through all of this. How might things be different if before they allowed you your Second Amendment Right, you had to post a notice on your door announcing that you were applying for a gun license? Would it change anything if your neighbors within 500 feet of you had a say? Would you be successful at the hearing that followed, defending your need for the weapon, should one of your neighbors object? Would you prevail if purchasing your weapon was up to the community rather than just the guy making a profit from your purchase?
I really want a beer and wine license. So, as the city and the state know full well, I'm willing to put up with the expense of having them look at my paperwork and issue me a license ($700 in California, $1,500 in Washington, D.C., and about $650 in Maryland). And if I wanted a pistol bad enough I suppose I'd stamp the envelopes addressed to my neighbors, put that ad in the paper, post the placard in my window and patiently wait the 60 days preparing all the while to defend my right should I have to.