A-C backs away from gun battle
Group's pressure kills park ban
Gun owners now are free to pack heat in Athens parks.
The Athens-Clarke Commission will repeal a local law banning the possession of firearms in parks next month, under pressure from a gun-rights group, and can't enforce the law in the meantime.
Commissioners met in closed session late Wednesday night to discuss a lawsuit filed in November by Fayetteville-based GeorgiaCarry.org. While commissioners believe people should not carry guns in parks, they reluctantly decided not to defend the ordinance in light of a recent Georgia Court of Appeals decision, Athens-Clarke officials said.
"We think that being able to carry weapons in recreational settings around children is completely inappropriate," Commissioner David Lynn said.
"We couldn't make some legal gesture that would end up costing taxpayers money," Lynn said. "We feel like we had no choice whatsoever."
An agreement signed Thursday by Clarke County Superior Court Judge Steve Jones and lawyers for Athens-Clarke County and GeorgiaCarry.org prohibits the county from enforcing the law until the commission repeals it at its Feb. 5 meeting.
The appeals court overturned a lower court ruling in December, striking down a similar law in Coweta County. Coweta officials decided not to appeal to the state Supreme Court, and the decision creates a statewide precedent.
Athens-Clarke County had little chance of successfully fighting the lawsuit, county Attorney Bill Berryman said.
"It is our position that the most recent appeal resolved that question," Berryman said. "It is the law of the land."
State law prohibits cities and counties from restricting where people can carry guns. The law is intended to keep such restrictions uniform across the state, GeorgiaCarry.org President Ed Stone said.
"We always thought it was an untenable position to have gun owners research laws in every single place," Stone said.
Thursday's consent order settles the issue in Athens, but a similar lawsuit against Fulton County and a half-dozen cities still is active, Stone said. Another half-dozen cities and counties have repealed similar laws since GeorgiaCarry.org formed a year ago and began challenging them.
The group also is seeking to overhaul the state's gun laws, backing a bill proposed by state Rep. Tim Bearden, R-Villa Rica. Under the bill, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg would face criminal penalties for sending undercover agents to investigate Georgia gun shops and Georgia officials would be prohibited from seizing weapons during an emergency, as Louisiana officials did in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, among other provisions.
Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on 010408