ATLANTA – The showdown over gun rights spilled into the United States’ busiest airport Tuesday after a Georgia legislator announced he would walk into Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport carrying a handgun.
Republican State Rep. Tim Bearden is the sponsor of a new law that went into effect July 1 allowing licensed Georgia gun owners to carry their firearms in public places. In his opinion, public places include the main lobby, ticketing areas and restaurants of Georgia airports.
Hartsfield-Jackson’s general manager, however, disagreed, declaring the airport a “gun-free zone,” and insisting that anyone in possession of a handgun could be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.
The spat, which the Atlanta Journal-Constitution dubbed “the Atlanta version of ‘High Noon,’ ” was the latest skirmish over Georgia’s new law.
As of Tuesday, concealed firearms can be brought onto public transportation and into state parks, historic sites, and restaurants that earn at least half their revenue from food sales. (They are not allowed at athletic events, churches, political rallies or bars.)
Atlanta officials, from the mayor and police chief to the general manager of the airport, have voiced strong opposition to the new law.
TV camera crews and reporters descended on the airport for the promised showdown Tuesday, only to find Bearden had backed down. He picked up arriving family members from the airport without a handgun but vowed that the showdown would take place in court. A gun advocacy group, GeorgiaCarry.Org, filed a federal lawsuit against the airport and the city of Atlanta, which owns and runs the airport, challenging the airport’s firearms ban.
The legal challenge comes less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Americans have a right to own a gun for self-defense. In striking down the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns as incompatible with gun rights under the Second Amendment, Justice Antonin Scalia noted that the opinion should not cast doubt on “laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.”
For many Atlanta officials, Hartsfield-Jackson, an airport that hosts 84 million passengers a year, constitutes such a sensitive place.
Federal law already bans guns past the security checkpoints of U.S. airports, but at a press conference at the Atlanta airport’s crowded atrium, Mayor Shirley Franklin vowed that the city would continue to enforce a no-gun policy throughout the airport. Allowing concealed weapons at Hartsfield-Jackson, she said, would create “an unsafe environment that would endanger millions of people.”
Franklin said Tuesday she intended to have “serious conversations” with Georgia’s members of Congress, asking them to withhold federal funds from facilities that allow firearms on their premises.