Their relationship started on the Internet — like-minded people bemoaning what they considered restrictive Georgia gun laws.
Attorney Ed Stone, a former police officer in Union City and Peachtree City, and five others commiserated in the chat room of a now-defunct Web site, packing.com. They'd exchanged numerous e-mails about what they called illegal limits on gun ownership and "everybody trying to make up their own law," Stone said.
Atlanta attorney and former police officer Ed Stone, president of GeorgiaCarry.org, which fights for gun owner's rights, says he carries his pistol with him every day.
In the back room of a Shoney's restaurant in Douglasville two years ago they organized. GeorgiaCarry.org was born.
In the time since, the group has quietly sued or pushed local governments to abandon ordinances restricting firearms in public parks and requiring Social Security numbers. The group also successfully fought the state's probate judges over delays in issuing permits and now is suing Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Two years of strategy
Funded through a $15-a-year membership fee by men and women in Georgia and other states, GeorgiaCarry.org was a tiny group when it filed its first lawsuit against a Coweta County probate judge over a gun-permit issue.
The group operated virtually unnoticed until it sued the airport because Atlanta officials threatened to arrest anyone with a gun in a nonsecured area at the world's busiest terminal. One of the results was a surge in membership; in a week GeorgiaCarry.org's roll grew from 1,600 to 1,900 and is expected soon to pass the 2,000 mark.
"We see ourselves as Georgia's newest civil rights group," said Stone, GeorgiaCarry.org's president since the beginning. "Two years ago, we didn't exist. Yet today, we're making a huge difference."
In the lawsuit against the airport, the group has the support of House and Senate members. Gov. Sonny Perdue also threw his political weight behind its argument when he told reporters earlier this week that he thought people — especially his wife — should be able to bring their guns into the airport. GeorgiaCarry.org is to be in federal court Aug. 11 to argue for a temporary injunction blocking the airport from arresting anyone with a gun in a nonsecured area.
An attorney who has gone against GeorgiaCarry.org on the legal front says the group is formidable. "It's an interesting niche that they've found and they've been able to take advantage of it," said Bill Berryman, the attorney for Athens-Clarke County in a suit challenging a local ordinance barring guns in parks.
Their strategy simply seems to be to challenge laws and ordinances. It's a straightforward approach, Berryman said. No juries, just a judge ruling on the law.
Advocates for gun restrictions are anxious about the gains made by the group. Some fear what's next.
Valarie Hartman-Levy of the Georgia Million Mom March said GeorgiaCarry.org's stand "seems pretty unbelievable."
She said the prolific lawsuits will cost taxpayers, and the public will "pay the price" of GeorgiaCarry.org's wins "with our safety."
Public gatherings next
Since August 2006, GeorgiaCarry.org has brought 13 state and federal lawsuits. It has won in court or come away with a settlement in all but two, which are pending. The cases were filed June 27 and July 1 — the first against Fulton County Probate Court for refusing to issue a license to a man who was not a Georgia resident and the other against Atlanta and the airport.
"They certainly have been litigious," said Alice Johnson with Georgians for Gun Safety. "I think that a lot of these pro-gun ... groups are going to find themselves less formidable as a result of the [U.S.] Supreme Court decision [throwing out Washington's gun ban]. That is not hype. That is not sour grapes."
GeorgiaCarry.org says it is not affiliated with any national organization or campaign. The group's Web site is described as "an information clearinghouse for Georgia firearms license issues and news."
"We're pretty proud of what we've done," said GeorgiaCarry.org board member and attorney John Monroe.
Monroe and Stone do not bill for their legal work but ask for attorneys' fees in the suits they bring. Membership fees cover court filing costs.
The group contends Georgia is one of the most restrictive states in the country. That's an argument also made by one of the country's largest gun rights groups, the National Rifle Association, and its state affiliate, the Georgia Sports Shooting Association.
GeorgiaCarry.org's leaders say characterizations that Georgia is gun-friendly are an "urban myth."
Yet the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the nation's most visible advocates for stricter gun laws, is on the other side of the debate. It consistently gives Georgia's law a failing grade for imposing only the minimum required under federal statue.
As GeorgiaCarry.org prepares for the August case against Hartsfield-Jackson International, which Stone calls "one more example of how the law can be twisted and abused," the group already knows what it will tackle next: Georgia's "public gatherings law."
The law prohibits carrying any explosive, knife or firearm — licensed or not — to a public gathering, such as church or a political rally.