Court Rejects Challenge From Reverends Who Want To Pack Heat, Upholds Georgia Ban On Guns In Churches

Our guest blogger is Billy Corriher, associate director of research for Legal Progress.

Hours after the horrific shooting in Aurora, Colorado last week, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to Georgia’s ban on carrying concealed weapons in places of worship. Guns rights advocates, along with two Reverends, argued the ban violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms, but the court disagreed. When the Supreme Court recognized that the Second Amendment protects an individual right, Justice Scalia said the ruling should not “cast doubt on . . . laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.”

The 11th Circuit held that the rights of gun owners are trumped by the rights of private property owners to determine the circumstances under which others can enter their property. The Georgia law allows parishioners packing heat to ask the church for permission to bring their guns. The court said, “An individual’s right to bear arms as enshrined in the Second Amendment, whatever its full scope, certainly must be limited by the equally fundamental right of a private property owner to exercise exclusive dominion and control over its land.”

The ban on guns in churches was enacted in 2010, when Georgia relaxed its concealed carry laws. The former law prohibited guns in “public places,” but the state legislature replaced that rule with a list of eight places where guns are forbidden. The list includes places of worship, government buildings, bars, nuclear power facilities, and polling places. Other than these restrictions, Georgia’s gun laws are among the most permissive in America.

But even these meager restrictions are apparently too oppressive for guns rights advocates. Father Stephen Pontzer, a supporter of the lawsuit, says the blame for gun violence belongs on those pulling the trigger. “It is not the actual item that really causes the trouble it is actually the people who would misuse them,” says Pontzer.

The Georgia legislature is now considering a bill that would overturn the 11th Circuit’s decision and further relax the state’s concealed carry laws to allow guns in churches, government buildings, schools, and bars, without the consent of property owners. In a nod to conservatives’ paranoia about the federal government seizing guns, the bill would also prohibit the National Guard from confiscating weapons during emergencies.