Appeals court upholds Georgia ban on guns in church

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ATLANTA — A federal appeals court has upheld Georgia’s law banning guns in churches and other places of worship.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, published Friday, upholds a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the law. The lawsuit was filed by a gun rights organization – GeorgiaCarry.org – and the Rev. Jonathan Wilkins, of Baptist Tabernacle of Thomaston.

The 11th Circuit rejected arguments that Georgia’s
ban violates the plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to freedom of religion and Second Amendment right to bear arms.

John Monroe, a lawyer for Georgia Carry, said Monday the plaintiffs hadn’t decided whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We’re looking at it,” Monroe said of the 11th Circuit decision. “We respect the court’s decision, but we were disappointed.”

Most gun rights advocates cheered when lawmakers lifted restrictions in 2010 that had banned them from taking their firearms to public gatherings.

But the Legislature left restrictions that banned guns from being carried into government buildings, courthouses, jails and prisons, state mental health facilities, nuclear plants and houses of worship.

Lawmakers also restricted owners from bringing weapons into bars without permission from the owner.

Critics of the law argue that churches shouldn’t be covered by the restrictions, which mostly apply to public buildings.

The 11th Circuit opinion, written by Circuit Judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat, addresses the Second Amendment arguments made by the plaintiffs.

“That Plaintiffs ‘would like’ to carry a firearm in order to be able to act in ‘self-defense’ is a personal preference, motivated by a secular purpose,” Tjoflat writes, adding that there is no First Amendment protection for either personal preference or for secular beliefs.

The opinion then addresses the Second Amendment claims.

“We conclude that the Second Amendment does not give an individual a right to carry a firearm on a place of worship’s premises against the owner’s wishes because such right did not pre-exist the Amendment’s adoption,” the opinion says. “Enforcing the Carry Law against a license holder who carries a firearm on private property against the owner’s instructions would therefore be constitutional.”


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