July 3, 2008

U.S. Airport Sued Over Gun Ban

By John Sullivan

A decision by Georgia legislators to relax the state's gun laws has led to a dispute over whether people can legally carry concealed firearms in the nation's busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International.

A Georgia gun rights group filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta on Tuesday after airport officials said they would continue to enforce a ban on concealed weapons in the terminal despite the changes to a state law. The changes, which were approved by the Georgia Legislature in the spring and took effect on Tuesday, relax the state's prohibition on carrying weapons on public transportation and in some other areas, including restaurants serving alcohol.

Benjamin DeCosta, the airport director, said the changes applied only to public transportation like buses and the city subway and were not intended to allow people to carry guns at the airport. He said allowing civilians to carry concealed weapons in the terminal, which serves millions of travelers each year, would pose severe problems for the police and airport security workers.

"We want to make sure the airport is safe and secure," DeCosta said. He added that airports had previously been the targets of terrorists and that "there should be no ambiguity to law enforcement as to whether people should be carrying weapons here."

DeCosta said lawyers for the city of Atlanta, which owns the airport, had determined that the changes to the law did not change the airport's ban on guns.

"Our view is that the law yesterday was the same as it is today," DeCosta said Tuesday. "If somebody comes through here tomorrow or the next day with guns, they will be handled in the appropriate manner."

The argument concerns only whether people with gun permits can carry concealed firearms in the public areas of the terminal.

Restricted areas, including spaces beyond security checkpoints, are governed by federal law, which forbids unauthorized firearms in those areas.

The airport's position was challenged by GeorgiaCarry.Org, a gun- rights group that has previously challenged the city over its ban on concealed firearms in Atlanta parks.

Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.

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