Into the weeds: Exploring the edges of Georgia's new gun law

We are 72 hours into Georgia’s new concealed-carry law, and questions that were once theoretical are sprouting like weeds.

All of us have a steep learning curve in front of us, including the firearms enthusiast in Valdosta who wasn’t sure that the fellow in front of him at the local convenience store was, in fact, a good guy with a holstered gun.

The enthusiast drew his own weapon and demanded the other’s carry permit. And was then arrested for disorderly conduct. Under Georgia’s new gun statute, you see, no one can require the display of another’s carry license without cause. Not even police.

It was once simply impolite. Now, it’s unlawful, too.

Chances are that larger educational opportunities will be conducted in a more civilized fashion. Which is the polite way of saying that lawyers will be involved. Armies of them.

We might as well introduce you to two lawyers who are already figuring into the discussion.

House Bill 60, signed by Gov. Nathan Deal this spring, clears the way for concealed weapons to be carried in a number of new venues – some churches, all bars, and many government office buildings. The measure also allows local school boards to decide whether to arm qualified teachers and administrators.

Phil Hartley serves as general counsel for the Georgia School Boards Association. His Gainesville firm also advises local school systems throughout the state.

So far, Hartley said, not one of Georgia’s 180 school systems have made any moves to arm educators. Nada. The culture that rules school systems isn’t the same one that reigns over the state Capitol.

A few systems with isolated schools might ultimately decide to arm their personnel, but they will proceed slowly. “I don’t expect you’re going to see much of that,” Hartley said. “Most educators simply are reluctant to put into place any kind of program that would introduce more guns and weapons into the school setting – except strictly in the hands of law enforcement.”

Another reason: Insurance companies have yet to say whether a teacher or principal with an authorized Glock on campus would result in a premium increase, Hartley said. And money is tight.

But here’s an area where Hartley could face a challenge from Second Amendment enthusiasts. His reading of H.B. 60, the attorney says, indicates that local board of education meetings conducted on school-owned property can still bar all weaponry – whether or not building security is in place.

“We believe that the statute is clear that the criminal provision that prohibits weapons, including guns, in school safety zones, applies to the school board offices as well,” Hartley said.

Look for a fight over this.

Another legal trouble-maker is Crystal Jones, a senior assistant attorney for Macon and Bibb County’s consolidated government. Previously, Georgia law allowed the private renter of public property to determine whether weapons would be allowed at a venue.

According to Jones’ reading, that’s no longer the case. The private operator of Macon’s Cherry Blossom Festival, held each year at a city park, can no longer bar concealed weapons. The private company operating the Macon-owned Centreplex can’t bar concealed weapons from concerts – which could send some entertainers elsewhere. “We want to ensure the safety of our citizens, but at the same time we want to comply with the law,” she said.

Jones even offers up this ironic wrinkle: Many private gun shows rent government-owned space. Such events also have a standard prohibition on bringing loaded weapons inside. But no more. At least, not in publicly owned auditoriums in Macon.

“As long as you’re a licensed weapons holder, you have a right to bring in your weapon,” she said.

This is no rogue opinion. At the state Capitol, we have legal sources telling us that Jones could very well be right in her interpretation. We have Second Amendment friends telling us the same thing – and that the provision could have implications for Atlanta’s largest publicly owned and privately operated entertainment venues.

Think Philips Arena and Turner Field, which currently have prohibitions on weaponry — bans that remain in place until someone in authority says otherwise.

All of these questions — and many, many more besides — have no final answers. At least, not now, and certainly not here. But they’re being shoved in the direction of Attorney General Sam Olens, whose summer vacation may have ended on the day the Safe Carry Protection Act went into effect.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.