New gun law sets stage for airport showdown | ajc.com
New gun law sets stage for airport showdown
Lawmaker says he'll defy city's ban on weapons
By JIM THARPE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/01/08
You could call it the Atlanta version of "High Noon."
Top city officials will announce Tuesday that despite a new state gun law that went into effect at midnight, they will have anyone carrying a weapon at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport arrested. The state lawmaker who sponsored the new gun law says if they do, the city will immediately be sued. And state Rep. Tim Bearden (R-Villa Rica) said the plaintiff in the lawsuit could be himself.
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"I have a permit, and I have family I have to pick up at the airport tomorrow [Tuesday]," Bearden told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday. "I'll have one [a concealed weapon] with me at all times."
Airport General Manager Ben DeCosta said if Bearden shows up at the world's busiest airport with a gun, he'll be busted.
"I can identify him, and I'll have him arrested," DeCosta said Monday. "We're not fooling around. This is a post-terrorism environment."
The new law, which Bearden sponsored, permits licensed gun owners to carry concealed firearms in parks, on public transportation and in restaurants that serve liquor. The law takes effect Tuesday.
Firearms proponents hailed the law as a victory for the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They say law-abiding citizens with the appropriate permits should be allowed to carry firearms in formerly forbidden areas for self-protection.
Before the new law was passed, Georgia law banned guns from venues like public transportation and restaurants serving alcohol. More than 40 other states permit guns on public transportation, Bearden said, and 37 allow permit holders to carry weapons into restaurants.
"I was in law enforcement for 15 years," Bearden said as the bill awaited the governor's signature two months ago. "I never rode up on a shooting in progress. I don't like the idea of the police telling you, 'Get mugged, get raped, get murdered. We'll come by, take the report, or send flowers.' That's the wrong message."
Opponents, however, blasted the proposal, saying it has the potential to spark more violence than it stops. DeCosta wrote to Gov. Sonny Perdue asking him to veto the bill, and Mayor Shirley Franklin and MARTA officials publicly lambasted the idea. MARTA bus drivers gathered more than 1,000 signatures on petitions demanding bulletproof shields.
Federal law already bans guns past the security checkpoints at U.S. airports. The new state law, however, apparently would permit guns to be carried on the non-secure side of Hartsfield-Jackson by people who have gone through a background check and have been certified to carry a weapon. Licensed gun owners would be permitted to carry weapons on public transportation coming into the airport, its lobby and in restaurants outside the security checkpoints.
DeCosta said he will use the first day the new law takes effect to declare Hartsfield-Jackson a "gun-free" zone.
"We're going to make it clear that the law does not make any allowance for guns at the airport," DeCosta said. "Guns are not appropriate for any airport in Georgia."
He and Franklin plan a 10 a.m. news conference to discuss the new gun law.
Bearden said the new law clearly permits guns in some areas of the airport.
"They are not appropriate once you go past security," he said. "But in parking lots or restaurants or public transportation, they are OK."
The state lawmaker said the city does not have the authority to defy a state law, and if they make arrests they will end up in court.
DeCosta said city officials will not back down from their position on the new law and again vowed to have Bearden or anyone else carrying a gun on airport property arrested.
"He can then have all the NRA [National Rifle Association] lawyers say why it's OK for him to bring a gun to the airport," DeCosta said.
MARTA, meanwhile, released a statement late Monday noting that state law prohibits firearms on public transit unless the carrier has a valid license to carry a gun.
"This license must be carried at any time that an individual is carrying a firearm on MARTA," the statement said.