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Published May 29 2013

Forum editorial: How many bars are enough?

Sunday’s Forum story about the number of bars per capita in North Dakota is another indication of a booze-loving culture that won’t be changing soon, no matter the pain and trauma caused by alcohol abuse. The state is No. 1 in the nation in ratio of bars to residents – a ranking that is no reason to celebrate.

But there it is. There’s no getting around it. No matter the minor fault critics might find with the statistical analysis, most North Dakotans can confirm the findings with their eyes. Visit any city or small town in the state. Even the smallest viable town will have one, maybe as many as three, watering holes. In the cities, bars and other places to imbibe (nearly every restaurant has an alcohol license of some kind) are as commonplace as churches. And in cities like Fargo and West Fargo, there’s a church on nearly every corner. Churches and bars: That’s us.

The bar/residents ratio comes on the heels of a legislative session that struggled to approve new penalties for drunken driving. In the end, Rep. Kim Koppelman’s bill was watered down but still mandates tougher fines and jail time for DUI offenders. In fairness to the West Fargo Republican, his original legislation was tougher; but being an experienced lawmaker, he knew what his colleagues would accept and what they would not accept. So he got what he could. It’s a good start.

One of the reasons the legislation was not tougher was concern among lawmakers that mandatory incarceration would be an expensive burden on local jails and courts. Which raises the question: What is the value of a life taken by a drunken driver?

Not much is changing. Alcohol-related death/injury motor vehicle accidents were up the first quarter of the year. Sobriety checkpoints always result in alcohol abuse charges – and those are only the offenders who are stopped. How many more drunks are out there who don’t get tagged?

The extraordinary number of bars and other booze-selling establishments is the marketplace at work, and the marketplace is a symptom of the state’s entrenched alcohol culture. How many bars are enough? Whatever the market determines, apparently.

Meanwhile, North Dakota’s many churches will continue to host funerals for victims of drunken drivers – most of the churches within walking distance of a bar …

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.