Coweta gun ruling appealed

Published 8/24/07 in The Times-Herald


Georgia Carry is a gun rights organization that is on a mission to do away with conflicting and confusing local gun regulations.

To that end, the organization asked Coweta County to repeal its ordinance banning guns in county parks. Coweta County refused and the organization sued. A Superior Court judge ruled in Coweta's favor, but Georgia Carry has appealed.

The case is now in the hands of the Georgia Court of Appeals. A decision is expected in early 2008.

Coweta isn't the only jurisdiction that Georgia Carry is concerned about. Earlier this week, the city council in Kennesaw voted, reluctantly, to change its rule.

The city attorney in John's Creek has sent Georgia Carry a letter indicating that he plans to make requested changes to the ordinance.

The organization filed suit against Gwinnett County, which then repealed its ordinance, said John Monroe, attorney for Georgia Carry.

The group also sent letters to Fulton County and all of its municipalities. "Atlanta responded and said it's going to take us several weeks to look at it, and nobody else responded at all," Monroe said. "So then we filed the lawsuit last week against Fulton County and the six cities that didn't respond."

Governments maintain that the rules against guns are supposed to make the parks safer. To the folks at Georgia Carry, that notion is preposterous.

"Kennesaw's mayor said that they need the law to protect children playing. As though someone who is intent on doing harm is going to worry about violating a city ordinance, but not about ignoring state laws against kidnapping and murder. It doesn't make any sense," Monroe said.

The group is challenging the local laws because the state specifically says that only the state can make laws regarding the carrying of weapons and how they can be borne Monroe said.

State law already prohibits guns at "public gatherings," which includes sporting events, churches, anywhere that serves alcohol, political rallies, and the like. State law goes further, though, saying that the law should not be interpreted to prohibit guns in other public places.

"The state has determined where people can carry firearms and where they can't," Monroe said. "Having cities come along and add things to the list ... for one it makes it difficult for people going from city to city" to know where they can carry their guns and where they can't, Monroe said.

"And two, the whole idea behind being able to carry is so you can protect yourself and your family and friends," he said.

"If you have places that ban the carrying of guns, then what you have done is created 'victim disarmament zones,'" Monroe said.

"A person with evil on his or her mind can know that he is not going to encounter any resistance in that area," Monroe said.

And if you look at places where serious gun violence and mass murders have taken place, "those are places where people are not allowed to carry," Monroe said.

The shootings at Virginia Tech are just the latest example. There are also numerous school shootings and several shootings at churches that have taken place in the past few years.

It's "ridiculous," Monroe said, to think that relativity minor city ordinances regarding "where you can carry and where you can't carry are going to stop criminals from doing something that they intend to do."

"If they're willing to commit more serious felonies, why are they going to be concerned with committing some relatively minor misdemeanors?"

Before Virginia Tech, the deadliest mass shooting was at Luby's Diner in Killeen, Texas. After the shooting, Suzanna Hupp, who was at the diner and watched as George Hennard shot and killed her parents, went on a crusade to make it easier for average citizens to be able to carry weapons. To comply with the law, Hupp had left her handgun in her car. In 1995, then-Governor George Bush signed a law that made it easier for Texas residents to get a concealed weapons permit.

In 1996, Hupp began the first of four terms in the Texas House of Representatives.

Georgia Carry President Ed Stone is a Coweta resident, and he appeared before the Coweta County Board of Commissioners to ask the board to repeal the law.

Monroe said that Coweta is the only local government that put a presentation by the group on its agenda.

During his presentation, Stone spoke of how much better he would feel if his wife were able to keep a pistol with her when she goes for a walk in the park with their young son.

An incident often cited by supporters of open carrying is the murder of Whitney Land and her young daughter, Jordan, in 1999. They were abducted from a Clayton County park. Land's vehicle, burned with the gunshot-blasted bodies of Land and her daughter inside the trunk, turned up at a Gwinnett County park.

Firearms were prohibited at both parks, but that rule didn't stop the murderer.

There are actually very few governments that prohibit guns in parks, Monroe said. But the group plans to challenge each one.

That's not all the organization is doing.

"Another thing we will be doing coming into the next legislative session is to try to clarify the laws on where you can carry and where you can't — right now, they are very confusing and difficult to understand," Monroe said.

The public gathering law, in particular, is a problem. "We find a lot of law enforcement officers that say it means anything is public. The court says it's not. But it's difficult to know where the line is," he said.

For instance, the prohibition against carrying a gun at a place that serves alcohol doesn't just mean bars, but any restaurant that happens to serve beer. "Why not just make it the law that you can't drink while carrying a gun?" Monroe said.

There is also the fact that courts have found that a parking lot of a public gathering is in itself part of that gathering. Therefore, even having a gun put away in your car at an event or place that serves alcohol could be technically violating the law.

Another problematic issue is the law regarding "hijacking." The law on hijacking prevents having a gun in a terminal or parking area of a transportation facility. That means locking your gun in the car when you get on a plane means you could be arrested for hijacking and sent to jail for 10 years, Monroe said. "If that is not bad enough, a bus stop is considered a transportation terminal — if you are walking down the street and in a reasonable distance of a bus stop — you're committing the crime of hijacking," Monroe said.

"Things like that are what we'd like to get cleared up. Because that doesn't make a whole lot of sense."