Suit to allow guns at Botanical Garden may go forward, court rules

The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a gun rights group that sued the Atlanta Botanical Garden over the issue of patrons carrying weapons when they visit the Midtown Atlanta attraction.

The unanimous decision released today did not say Phillip Evans, a member of GeorgiaCarry.org, could bring his firearm on his next trip to the garden. Instead the ruling, written by Justice Carol Hunstein, said the lower court should not have dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that it did and the justice sent the matter back to the lower court to reconsider.

GeorgiaCarry.org can proceed with its lawsuit, the justices said.

A Fulton County Superior Court had dismissed Evans’ suit on the grounds that a judge could not preempt the garden from seeking criminal charges against someone, who has a permit, for simply carrying a weapon. The Supreme Court said the judge in this case was wrong because the garden was not a government entity and did not have the authority to bring criminal charges.

The case began in in October 2014 when Evans wore his holstered gun during a visit with his family to the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

According to court filings, the Gwinnett County man walked around the garden for about three hours with his gun openly strapped to his side on Oct. 5, 2014. The complaint said no one stopped him or complained about it that time. But when the family returned a week later, the police were called and Evans was told he could not be armed while on Botanical Garden property.

Evan sued on the grounds that the land where the garden is located is owned by the city – even though the Botanical Garden is a private entity — and Georgia Law allows firearms in publicly-owned spaces except for the few specifically exempted like jails, courthouses and government building where a certified law enforcement officer provides security at entrances.

Evans suit attempted to preempt the possibility that he could be arrested if he returned to the garden with his gun. But a lower court said it could not issue an injunction to prevent the “enforcement of a criminal law” if the garden should seek criminal charges against Evans if he returns and is armed.

A Fulton County Superior Court judge said a private entity, the Botanical Garden, cannot be enjoined from banning guns.

The Supreme Court said the lower court was wrong to dismiss the case for that reason.

While Georgia law allows firearms to be carried in many public places, they can be banned on private property.

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