The decision prompted gun rights advocates to renew their push for a legislative remedy to the court battle.
U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob had dismissed the lawsuit last year on grounds that GeorgiaCarry.org failed to prove that a new Georgia law would allow weapons into unsecured areas of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a two-page decision that found an appeal of that ruling was "meritless."
The legal feud erupted when a new state law took effect in July that allows people with gun permits to carry guns into restaurants and state parks and on public transportation.
Atlanta 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 the airport qualifies as public transportation under the new state law.
The law's supporters said they would resume exploring other legal options, but signaled the fight will likely shift to the Georgia Legislature.
"If we have to incorporate this to make it specifically clear - if we need to spell it out - then we're going to do that," said state Rep. Tim Bearden, who co-sponsored the law.
Bearden has introduced a sweeping gun proposal, House Bill 615, that he expects could come to a vote for next year's legislative session. The measure, among other things, would ban the seizure of firearms during official states of emergency. But Bearden said it could eventually specifically allow firearms in parts of the airport.
"We're looking at all our options at this time," said Bearden, R-Villa Rica.
City attorneys argued in court that allowing some residents to carry guns at the airport could pose a threat to passengers. They warned that even an accidental firearm discharge could cause mayhem.
Gun rights advocates argued that the Legislature intended the law to allow residents with permits to take their guns into airport terminals, parking lots and other unsecured areas.
In a 14-page ruling, Shoob sharply rejected the gun group's claims. The ordinary definition of "public transportation" does not include airports, he wrote, and there's no clear evidence that Georgia legislators intended the law to apply to airports.
The appellate panel offered little elaboration on its decision, saying only in the brief ruling that it agrees with Shoob's order that the "argument is meritless."