ATLANTA – A federal judge on Monday upheld a gun ban at the world's busiest airport, dealing a blow to gun rights groups who argued a new Georgia law authorized them to carry weapons in certain parts of the Atlanta airport.
U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob expressed concern that allowing guns at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport could cause significant economic damage and could be a "serious threat to public safety and welfare."
His decision rejected a request by GeorgiaCarry.org that would have temporarily allowed gun owners to carry their weapons in the airport until his final ruling on the gun ban — a challenge that could likely last months.
The legal showdown erupted when the state law that allows people with a concealed weapons permit to carry guns into restaurants, state parks and on public transportation took effect on July 1.
City officials quickly declared the airport a "gun-free zone" and warned that anyone carrying a gun there would be arrested.
GeorgiaCarry.org sued the city and the airport, claiming that the airport qualifies as mass transportation under the new state law. Attorney John Monroe told the judge repeatedly that no law makes it a crime for residents with permits to bring their guns into terminals, parking lots and other unsecured areas.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year clarified that the Second Amendment guarantees individuals the right to own working guns, and struck down a Washington D.C. metro ban on private gun ownership.
Gov. Sonny Perdue, who signed the bill into law in May, supports the lawsuit. The Republican suggested that his own wife might want to carry a firearm for long walks between the parking lot and the airport's terminal.
City officials have angrily fired back, arguing that allowing some residents to carry guns at the airport could pose a dire threat to the millions of passengers it serves each year. Even an accidental firearm discharge, they say, could cause mayhem.
"First, you're going to have a stampede," said Robert Kennedy, the airport's assistant general manager.
Meanwhile, airport officials are quietly devising a backup plan.
They have asked the Transportation Security Administration to amend the airport's federal security program so that guns are banned in all areas, including certain parking facilities.
TSA officials said the agency is reviewing the request, the first such appeal it has ever received.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has also urged the agency to strengthen its restrictions and warned that Congress could intervene if national regulations are not adopted.
The judge's ruling was a defeat for GeorgiaCarry.org, a two-year-old group that has won a string of victories reversing city and county firearm restrictions around the state.
But state Rep. Tim Bearden, a Republican who co-sponsored the law, said it was only a temporary setback.
"In the long run, the Constitution always prevails," said Bearden, a former police officer who wore a yellow tie imprinted with the document's words. "At least, it's supposed to."