Gun rights group sues Atlanta Botanical Gardens to allow weapons

ExploreUpdate: Georgia Supreme Court rules on Atlanta Botanical Gardens suit over weapons rules

A Gwinnett County man sued the Atlanta Botanical Gardens Wednesday because he was escorted off the property on the basis that he was openly carrying a gun.

According to the suit filed by Phillip Evans and the gun rights group, Evans called the gardens in August to ask about the policy concerning weapons and followed the phone conversation up with two emails to verify what from Jason Diem, a member of the gardens’ management team, had told him.

“The Garden’s policy is no weapons except as permitted by law,” Diem responded, according to the suit filed in Fulton State Court.

Attorney John Monroe said Evans took that to mean that people licensed to carry guns could bring their weapons when they visited the gardens.

Monroe said Evans made that assumption because of a change in state law this year. While the Botanical Gardens is a private organization its leases 30 acres from the city of Atlanta and that is where the exemption is, Monroe said.

Evans visited the gardens without getting any questions about his holstered firearm on Oct. 12, according to the suit.

“They originally told him that weapons were prohibited except as allow by law,” Monroe said, adding that Evans “took that to mean” he could come armed.

“He was reinforced in his belief” when he was unchallenged during the Oct. 12 visit, Monroe said.

But when Evans came back to the gardens on the edge of Piedmont Park a week later with his wife and two children, again openly wearing his gun in a holster, Diem told him he could not have his gun with him.

The police were called and Evans was escorted to his car and told to leave, according to the suit.

Evans followed up with an emailed question about Botanical Gardens policy to Mary Pat Matheson, president and CEO, and she responded on Oct. 22 that only police officers can be armed while on the property.

“Evans intends to continue to visit the gardens and desires to carry a weapon while he does so,” the lawsuit said.

Monroe said Evans wanted to bring his gun “for the same reason anybody wants to carry a gun; for self defense.”

Officials with the gardens declined to comment because they had not seen the suit but said they may have something to say on the issue later.

The suit says the law that took effect on July 1 only allows private property owners and lessees of private property to ban guns but public property owners and lessees of public property do not have that right.

The lawsuit said the Botanical Gardens is violating Evans’ right to carry a gun “in every location in this state.”

Evans' is the latest in a series of lawsuits designed to force intrepretation of the law to allow open carry in more places.