Do Better Laws Make Better Bouncers?

Legislation designed to protect club-goers from bouncers doesn’t pack much of a punch. Thank goodness.

“I have rendered over 250 people unconscious downtown since I’ve been here,” Duece King says calmly as he prepares to open the doors of Austin’s Lit Lounge for the night. The shuffling, gargling, liver-worked masses stumbling down “Dirty 6th” street like booze and Duece, a six-year veteran of club security, likes the choke hold. “It just cuts off the blood to your carotid [artery] .… There’s not a scratch. There’s not any pain. All you did was eliminate them from the scenario.”   

Duece King is a bouncer’s bouncer. That’s a point of pride for a man in a profession maligned by not just blacked-out party girls, but an increasing number of lawmakers looking to regulate the men who regulate clubs. Like other men in his field, Duece values professionalism and efficiency and could give a damn about legislation coming down the pike.

Although he’s a professional MMA fighter during the day, Duece is not just muscle. For starters, he’s just 5’10’, 175Ibs. Tonight, he’s dressed better than most of the patrons in black pants and vest, a raspberry dress shirt, a sharp tie. and a newsboy cap. And he doesn’t have any of that Patrick Swayze Roadhouse swagger. He says “communication” is his biggest weapon. “The last thing I want to do after training all day is come down here to fight,” he adds. He’s here for the paycheck and that’s as it should be.

Just a few doors down stands another of Dirty 6th’s serious pros: Squid. Squid has been bouncing on and off for 18 years and, physically, he’s built for the part. The former Navy Seal looks like a cross between Zach Galifianakis and The Hulk. But Squid doesn’t smash. “Intimidation works a lot better,” he says. “I prefer to go the non-violent route.”

While these pacifists protect the drunken tourists, townies, and college twerps from themselves, a number of local and state governments in the past decade have seen fit to bounce bouncers. That is, they’ve begun regulating bouncers as a way to curb a profession’s perceived violence. The outcry has followed a familiar pattern: someone gets hurt or killed by a bouncer using excessive force; the media picks up the baton and runs stories like “Cities Looking to Curb Door Thugs,” (Fox News); lawmakers decide that training and certification should be mandatory. 

Unfortunately, the regulations are about as effective as a bouncer with no arms.

Des Moines passed a certification law in 2008 following the death of a bar patron. Two years later, “Fewer than 100 people have been trained,” according to the Des Moines Register, even though “about 1,300 establishments” met the training requirements. Former State Rep. Wayne Ford, who introduced the legislation, seemed to acknowledged – despite considerable pride in the law’s creation –  Iowa House File 901 is more symbolic than anything. “The intent of that language was historic,” he told Maxim. “ … if nothing else, I believe this is the beginning of a movement. I believe that other states will get involved.”

So far only California has flexed its bouncer muscles. In 2006, it became the first to pass such a state-wide law. Unfortunately, there’s some technical kinks to work out there as well. The process of getting a state official to speak about the law was significantly smoother than the ensuing semantic discussion about whether or not the umbrella term “Proprietary private security officers” covered “bouncers.” The spokesperson’s stance seemed to oscillate between I don’t know and I don’t care.

What’s funny is that everyone — bouncers, lawmakers, even security experts — seems to agree that the bar scene has actually gotten a lot more peaceful over the years. The explanations for the decline in violence vary. Rep. Ford, a former bouncer himself, says a lot of it has to do increased tort law and liability litigation. Louis Bonito, who runs a security certification and training school in Connecticut, takes the grand-theory approach. “Society used to accept their behavior,” he says. “As we mature as a society, it’s become less and less acceptable. And professionalism is expected.”

Call it the gentrification of America’s bars. The wealthier we get, the less confrontational we become. “The one thing about rich people is they can’t fight,” says Deuce. “It’s comical. If they do start to fight they just hope someone will break it up.” 

As for regulation and training, Duece is ambivalent. He thinks there should definitely be a background check, since, admittedly, the contemporary bouncer-scene is vulnerable to self-sabotage. It’s a revolving door of low-paid twenty-somethings, few of whom have been involved in an actual confrontation. They take bouncer gigs, says Duece, because the opportunities (“sneak drinks and talk to girls”) suit twenty-something dudes. Squid, the self-described “old-school dinosaur,” shrugs off the idea of certification. “Maybe a union,” he grunts.

When the doors of Lit open for the night, Dirty 6th is already rumbling. The sidewalks glitter with bachelorette parties pursued by packs of stray boys and non-threatening bar employees yelling out special deals like carnival barkers — Duece calls’em “promosexuals.” It’s your average after-hours freakshow. Deuce checks IDs, calmly manning the door as a skinny bouncer several years his junior beckons to some girls and tries, playfully, to take a lick of one of their suckers. “I would’ve fucked her,” he says, apropos of the one thing apparently on his mind. 

Later that same night, a bachelor party causes a ruckus inside Lit. Perhaps taken with the recent viral challenge, they intentionally spill the contents of their ice bucket all over  the floor. Duece approaches them and, after a few diplomatic words, there is what he later describes as “a small, little brawl.” Duece puts a guy in a choke hold and sends the others packing. He hopes those guys — like MMA fighters, they had cauliflower ears — didn’t take it personally. He certainly didn’t. It’s a job. 

Photos by Getty Images