July 9, 2008

‘High Noon’ Showdown Brewing at Airport


TO GET A glimpse of what we are in for after the U.S. Supreme Court recently threw in with libertarians and the gun lobby, turn to Atlanta's airport, Hartsfield-Jackson International. What is locally billed as a showdown is brewing there.

So far, only words and attitudes have been slung - not bullets.

Later, who knows? The city has barred guns from its airport, despite a contrary statute enacted by the state legislature this year and despite the high court's endorsement of the law, as that statute's enthusiasts take the recent ruling to be.

With U.S. airports stuck at anxious Code Orange since 9/11, it seems likely most folks would consider them reasonable candidates for gun-free status. That would seem especially so for Hartsfield- Jackson, by most measures the world's busiest airport, with 56,000- plus working there and on average 245,000 passengers passing through daily.

But Republican state Rep. Tim Bearden reads the state's new law as allowing concealed firearms in all the airport's facilities, shops, airline counters, parking decks and lots - everywhere, that is, right up to the metal detector on the way to boarding.

The new state legislation invites gunners with concealed-carry permits to tote their weapons into parks, many publicly owned buildings, public transit and transit facilities, restaurants that serve alcohol and the restaurants' bars.

The law righteously forbids folks with hidden firearms to drink alcohol in the restaurants and bars but, really, who would know? Are the waiters, waitresses, barkeeps and sommeliers to pat down anyone who orders a drink?

"I'll have this '93 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, please."

"A fine choice, madam. Now, up against the wall - and spread 'em!"

Hartsfield-Jackson is a-crawl with uniformed security and no doubt with plainclothes sorts as well, but Bearden nonetheless postures as championing the right and implied need of worthy citizens to be ready to draw and shoot.

As one gun-besotted blogger put it in support - and perhaps rather more plainly than some on the same side would wish - "Criminals should have a doubt about who might get a drop on them. Some of us pray for one clear shot at armed robbers."

Fans of an expansionist Second Amendment insist that permit holders are almost always good sober citizens. No doubt, but some are good sober citizens with itchy trigger fingers.

The Supreme Court judged gun ownership a personal right and not just one in service of the states' security interests, as federal courts had previously held. But Justice Antonin Scalia's wording seemed to leave plenty of room for most customary gun controls and specifically sustained the common practice of barring weapons from government buildings.

Still, state legislator Bearden is threatening to breach Atlanta's airport armed and if arrested, as the city promises he will be, make a new federal case out of it. Are publicly owned airports thus government buildings?

The Supreme Court's ruling answered the big constitutional question but left hanging scores of crucial implementation issues.

Atlanta's "showdown" is one of the first in what is sure to be a crossfire that will last year after year.

Tom Teepen is a columnist for Cox Newspapers. He is based in Atlanta. E-mail him at [email protected] earthlink.net.

Originally published by BY TOM.

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