While I consider myself a staunch supporter of gun rights, I also support property rights just as vehemently. I think people have a right to do what they want with their own property, even if I think they’re stupid for doing so. This becomes an issue for me when property rights butt straight into gun rights, such as gun-free zones in states where private property owners can make their own determination on the issue.
In my home state of Georgia, however, things are a little weird. Private property owners can restrict guns on their property, but a gun-free zone sign has no force of law. Further, as a preemption state, communities can’t pass their own gun control regulations.
Why do those two things have anything to do with one another? Well, there’s a case where the Atlanta Botanical Gardens said they can restrict guns on their premises because they’re a private entity. The problem, though, is that the property itself is owned by the city.
Now, the state supreme court has kicked the case back down to the lower court.
In 2014, a member of the gun-rights organization GeorgiaCarry.Org filed suit in Fulton County Superior Court seeking to overturn the nonprofit corporation’s firearms ban. Atlanta Botanical Garden countered by citing language in state law that allows owners of private property to prohibit firearms from being brought onto their property.
After the trial court dismissed the case, GeorgiaCarry.Org appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing the Atlanta Botanical Garden is actually public property because it is owned by the city of Atlanta and leased to the organization that operates the facility. In 2016, the justices sent it back to the trial court.
The Fulton County court then ruled in favor of Atlanta Botanical Garden for the second time, and the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld that decision.
In Monday’s ruling, the state Supreme Court declared the Court of Appeals should not have dismissed the lawsuit by summary judgement rather than considering the merits of the case.
At the heart of the issue appears to be the fact that the lease between the city and the Garden wasn’t part of the official record. Much of this actually hinges on the wording of that lease.
Now, will it make a difference?
Speaking as someone who is not a lawyer and has never played one on TV, I’m not sure that it will. While the property itself may be publicly owned, the least probably does make it so that it’s considered public property for the purposes of determining what is permissible on the premises and what isn’t.
Then again, it may not. I haven’t seen the lease, so I could be very wrong. Honestly, I hope I am, actually. I just wouldn’t hold my breath on it.
However, there’s another reason why a lawsuit like this matters. Over the years, GeorgiaCarry.Org has had issues with the City of Atlanta trying to issue gun control pertaining to city property. In particular, I recall them trying to ban guns in a city park.
It’s important to note that, as such, GeorgiaCarry.Org’s lawsuit may also serve as a reminder that the state’s largest gun-rights group isn’t willing to just let them slide by in their decisions to ignore the state’s preemption law. Instead, it will be fought and fought vigorously, as it should be.
I wish them the best of luck.