Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Georgia Carry and Phillip Evans win Five Year Legal Battle at Supreme Court

Image from wikicommons by Daderot 12 November, 2007

The road to restore Second Amendment rights in Georgia has been long and hard fought. Much has been regained through the legislature. Many of the infringements on the Second Amendment were imposed as part of the effort to keep freed blacks from enjoying their new rights as citizens.

 In 1868, in what was known as the "Camilla Massacre" black marchers and their Republican supporters had defended themselves with firearms, even though several of the marchers were killed. 

In 1870, the Georgia legislature banned the carry of guns or knives at "public gatherings" in response to marchers protesting to claim their rights under the 14th Amendment. Variations of the law remained on the books until 2008.

In 2008, Second Amendment supporters, in particular, Georgia Carry, successfully lobbied the legislature to remove some of the infringements in the statutes, including the restriction on carrying knives and guns in "public gatherings".

In 2010, the Georgia statues were amended again, restoring the right to carry throughout the state, to people who had been issued a permit. Private property owners were exempted; including those who had control of property through a lease.

Occasionally, local governments used the ability to lease property to private entities to restrict people from lawfully exercising their Second Amendment rights. The ruse was to lease property to a private entity, which would then ban the carry of arms, claiming it had the right to do so as a non-governmental actor.

In 2014, the Georgia legislature reformed the statutes again, to insure the exemption for private actors to ban guns only applied to leases of private property.

In 2014, the Atlanta Botanical Garden banned Phillip Evans from openly carrying his holstered handgun on the property with his family. Evans, with the aid of Georgia Carry, sued to enforce his rights, as protected by the legislature. The Botanical Gardens has a 50 year lease from the City of Atlanta.

The case has been moving through the courts for five long years. The Fulton County Superior Court held for the Botanical Garden. The Georgia Court of Appeals upheld the Fulton County Superior Court.

Finally, on October 7th, 2019, the Georgia Supreme Court held that words actually mean what they say.

They ruled a private entity lease of public property does not convey the right to ban firearms on the premises, unless the actual ownership of the property is transferred to the lessee.

That is what the law passed in 2014 says. From the Supreme Court decision:

On July 1, 2014, this Code section was again amended. Among other changes to the state’s weapons possession laws that took effect the same day, the proviso in OCGA § 16-11-127 (c) was amended by the General Assembly to insert the word “private” in three instances where it had not previously been included:
 . . . private property owners or persons in legal control of private property through a lease, rental agreement, licensing agreement, contract, or any other agreement to control access to such private property shall have the right to exclude or eject a person who is in possession of a weapon or long gun on their private property[.]

 (Emphasis supplied.) Ga. L. 2014, p. 599, § 1-3 (effective July 1, 2014). This is the current text of OCGA § 16-11-127 (c), and it was in effect at the time the Gardens prohibited Evans from carrying a firearm onto the premises the Garden leases from the City of Atlanta.6
The Supreme Court goes on to say, private property is not public property, and public property is not private property.  The Supreme Court returned the case to the Fulton County Superior Court to examine the lease in question. The actual lease had not been entered into evidence.

Attorney John R. Monroe can be heard on this radio show on WABE.org. Toward the end of the interview, he is asked if he has read the lease in question. Monroe represented Philip Evans in the case. He says, in his opinion, the lease does not transfer ownership rights to the Botanical Gardens.

The court is yet to make that determination. No matter what happens with the Fulton County Superior Court, the precedent has been set. Private entities may not, simply by leasing public property, prevent people who are legally carrying firearms from exercising their rights on the public property in Georgia.

©2019 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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