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Reaction mixed on airport gun ruling

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

An appeals court's decision to uphold U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob's dismissal of a lawsuit seeking to allow licensed gun owners to carry weapons in some parts of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is drawing mixed reactions.

According to The Associated Press, the issue first surfaced in July 2008 when a state law allowing individuals with a gun permit to carry firearms into restaurants, state parks and on public transportation took effect. The airport was quickly declared a "gun-free" zone, and a group called GeorgiaCarry.org sued the city of Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson, claiming the airport qualifies as public transportation under the new state law.

Shoob dismissed the lawsuit last year on grounds that the group failed to prove the Georgia law would allow weapons into unsecured areas of the airport. Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Shoob's earlier ruling, stating the appeal was without merit.

"We are pleased with the court's ruling, and that Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport will continue to remain a safe, secure gun-free environment for its 90 million passengers a year," Airport General Manager Ben DeCosta said.

Not everyone was pleased.

The owner of On The Square Jewelry & Pawn of McDonough, who identified himself only as George, said he felt the ruling violates citizens' rights.

"I think if you have a gun permit you should be allowed to carry your gun anywhere you want," he said. "It is our right. It is in the Constitution."

Others were hesitant to take an official stance on the matter.

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said through a spokesperson he has always been a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, but he had no comment on this issue.

When contacted, Shoob had no comment on the ruling.

The law's supporters said they would resume exploring other legal options, but signaled the fight will likely shift to the Georgia Legislature.

State Rep. Tim Bearden (R-Villa Rica), who co-sponsored the law, vowed to clarify the language to specify the airport qualifies as public transportation.

"If we have to incorporate this to make it specifically clear - if we need to spell it out - then we're going to do that," he said.

Bearden has introduced a sweeping gun proposal, House Bill 615, that he expects could come to a vote for next year's legislative session. The measure, among other things, would ban the seizure of firearms during official states of emergency. But Bearden said it could eventually specifically allow firearms in parts of the airport.

"We're looking at all our options at this time," said Bearden.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.