Saturday, August 20, 2011

Guns: A Public Gathering in Georgia

This Labor Day, I'll be headed to Dragon*Con, a multigenre sci-fi/fantasy convention that occupies five hotels in and around downtown Atlanta:

Thanks to a relatively recent change in Georgia's CCW laws, I'll be able to legally tote my handgun while the convention is afoot. You see, last year, Georgia eliminated its prohibition on carrying a gun to "a public gathering" (if you want to look it up, the statute was O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127 (2008)).

Like many gun control laws, the "public gathering" prohibiton was mainly designed to disarm freedmen and their Republican supporters in the Reconstruction-era South. "Public gatherings" that were off-limits included, but were not limited to:
“[A]thletic or sporting events, schools or school functions, churches or church functions, political rallies or functions, publicly owned or operated buildings, or establishments at which alcoholic beverages are sold for consumption on the premises.
It doesn't take a genius to see the problem with the law - from the statute (which gives examples of public gatherings but has no express limitations), there was no way to tell what constituted a "public gathering."

The caselaw interpreting the "public gathering" clause was unclear, too. Rejecting the State of Georgia's argument that "public gathering" was any location where the public gathers (which would have included McDonald's and Wal-Mart), one court defined the term as any place where "people are gathered or will be gathered for a particular function." State v. Burns, 200 Ga.App. 16, 17 (1991). This is slightly less onerous from a gun rights standpoint, but it's still a woefully vague standard: is your neighborhood softball game a public gathering? A signing at a book store? People watching a movie in a theater? A multigenre convention in downtown Atlanta?

All that uncertainty ended when Georgia passed Senate Bill 308 in 2010, which modified and revised much of Georgia's CCW regime and finally killed the ambiguous "public gathering" restriction. Here's a news report talking about the unamended version - the conference committee version was what was eventually signed by the Governor.

Some vestiges of the public gathering law remain; there's still a ban on concealed weapons in places of worship, for instance (because no one would ever attack a church). Thankfully, Georgia gun rights advocates like Georgia Carry and Georgia Gun Owners are still fighting the good fight, both in the courts and in the legislature:


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