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Our Views: Trust the people
Georgia's ban on Sunday alcohol sales is another government mandate of personal behavior
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Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; Executive Editor Mitch Clarke; and Managing Editor Keith Albertson.

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, when millions of Americans gather around TV sets to watch pro football's champion crowned. The day is traditionally filled with parties, food and plenty of adult beverages.

Next year, many Georgians may be able to stock up on all of those supplies on game day.

The state Senate is on its way to approving a bill that would allow voters in Georgia communities to decide if they want to purchase alcoholic beverages on Sundays. The bill would toss one last remaining governmental mandate from the 19th century into history's trash heap.

The Senate's State and Local Governmental Operations Committee, headed by Hall County freshman Sen. Butch Miller, approved the bill without debate, and it now goes to the full Senate. The House isn't expected to fight it, and Gov. Nathan Deal has vowed to sign it.

If and when that happens, cities and counties across Georgia will be able to schedule votes this fall, if they so choose, to allow package and grocery stores to sell beer, wine and spirits any day of the week.

Georgia remains one of only three states, along with Indiana and Connecticut, that ban Sunday alcohol sales. Restaurants, sporting events and other venues are allowed to sell it by the drink in most areas.

The ban stems from the state's "blue laws" that began in the 1800s, with many states re-enacting them in 1933 after federal prohibition was revoked as a colossal failure.

The idea of banning alcohol sales on Sundays has many roots, from the efforts of churches to impose certain behavioral standards to the idea that banning sales that one day of the week will help keep roads safer from drunk drivers.

Yet little evidence exists to show how one day without sales will deter those who drink and get behind the wheel. In fact, those who become intoxicated at a bar or a ballgame are more likely to be on the roads than someone purchasing a bottle of wine for Sunday dinner at the supermarket.

But that kind of logic is lost on those who want to see their moral standards adopted by all, even if they must drag everyone along kicking and screaming.

We saw the result of prohibition: Alcohol sales went underground and helped spawn the rise of organized crime in many cities. Speakeasies poured bootleg booze freely, turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals. Law enforcement agencies spent massive amounts of manpower and time weeding out the fruits of the vine while violent crime mobs grew in power and influence.

The lesson there is one any libertarian will cite: Anything that government seeks to fully control often will slip further from its lawful grasp.

In fact, one can draw a loose parallel to another form of government control. Many argue that crackdowns on gun ownership do nothing to deter criminals; they just limit the rights of those who obey the laws.

The same can be said for sales of alcohol. Irresponsible people won't suddenly change their ways because they can't buy beer at a mini-mart on Sunday. It merely inconveniences those who might want to pick up a six pack before the big game.

Though passing the law is expected to give the state's economy a modest boost, it likely won't have a major effect. Most Georgians have adjusted over the years to making their beer and booze runs on Saturday before the package stores shut down. Those sales likely will be spread around to another day rather than lead to a major increase. However, it would be a plus to visitors who aren't used to such restrictions at home and those who prefer to do their grocery shopping on Sundays.

Keep in mind that this will be decided by local voters. If the people in a community vote down such sales, the ban will remain in effect. Either way, the decision will be made locally, which is how it should be.

The state should continue to enforce laws against driving under the influence and underage sales as stringently as ever. Alcohol consumption should be limited to adults who do so responsibly. In fact, those who oppose Sunday alcohol sales could push for stronger penalties for convicted drunken drivers as a trade-off to ending the blue laws. Few would argue with that effort.

In the end, it comes down to basic freedoms: Do we trust the people of this state to decide for themselves if they want to buy and consume adult beverages?

There is no valid reason to limit sales of a legal product by a majority of Georgians to satisfy a vocal minority bent on advocating its own view of morality.

For the past decade, the General Assembly balked at passing such a bill, mostly because its leaders knew it would be dead on arrival at the governor's desk. Former Gov. Sonny Perdue vowed to veto any such bill, based on his own personal views on alcohol, so any incentive to spend time pushing it through fizzled.

There is a word for government leaders who wish to impose their narrow views on others' personal choices: We call them dictators. Any nation or state that dictates personal lifestyle decisions of any kind to its citizenry is overreaching and violating the ideals of true liberty.

Deal, to his credit, is willing to let the people of Georgia choose, though he, like Perdue, is a teetotaler. But unlike the former governor, he isn't letting his personal views dictate what others are allowed to do.

"I don't drink. I simply believe in democracy," Deal said.

Well said, Governor. Sign the bill when it passes and show you trust Georgians to run their own lives.