It seems almost inconceivable, but on the same day the country was reeling from the Aurora theater shooting a federal appeals court in Atlanta upheld a Georgia ban on guns in places of worship, giving gun control advocates a rare and much needed victory.
The 2010 law bans guns in churches, synagogues and mosques. A minister challenged the law arguing he had a First Amendment constitutional right to bring sidearms to worship services. The challenge emerged after the Georgia Legislature eliminated a firearms ban at generic “public gatherings” and replaced it with a list of eight specific places where firearms would not be permitted. Wilkins argued the new list forced him to choose between his First Amendment religious freedom guarantees and the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals flatly rejected that claim holding that the pastor, Jonathan Wilkins of the Baptist Tabernacle of Thomaston and the gun rights group GeorgiaCarry.org had not shown how the law interfered with his sincerely held religious belief.
The court also rejected the Second Amendment challenge holding that the group’s belief that there is an individual right to carry a gun into a place of worship did not trump a private property owner’s right to exclusively control who is allowed on their premises and under what circumstances.
Appeals Court Gerald Tjoflat, writing for the panel wrote that the Georgia gun law was written with certain places banned because the Legislature was “concerned that the carrying of weapons … would likely present an unreasonable risk of harm to people who assemble in eight specific locations” — places of worship, government buildings, courthouses, prisons and jails, state mental health facilities, bars without the owner’s permission, nuclear power plants and polling places and their immediate surroundings.
The Second Amendment argument that the preacher and GeorgiaCarry.org made, Tjoflat wrote, asked the court “to destroy one cornerstone of liberty — the right to enjoy one’s private property — in order to expand another — the right to bear arms. This we will not do.”
At least the 11th Circuit has given some indication as to the limit of individual gun owner rights in the eyes of the federal judiciary. It would appear that those diminish where private property rights begin. And with nearly 10,000 gun-violence deaths a year, it’s long past time we started to dictate the limits of those Second Amendment rights.
Photo from mista stagga lee via flickr.