HB 875 passed the Georgia House of Representatives easily this week and is headed to the Georgia Senate. Among other things, HB 875 will remove Georgia’s criminal prohibition on carrying weapons in bars and places of worship. During the floor debate on HB 875, many opponents of the bill argued that decriminalizing the carriage of a weapon somehow infringes upon the private property rights of churches who might not want weapons carried inside their buildings.
Oddly, some on the right have now taken up this same fallacious argument. My fellow examiner, Mike DeVine at the Atlanta Law and Politics Examiner, published an article yesterday with the title GA Law: Gun-Carry Would Trump Private Property Rights. In it, he argues, “But surely a law that forces a private property owner, as a condition of conducting business, should not be forced allow or pay for, or allow the presence of, armed citizens on their property, is not only not reasonable, but is also unconstitutional.”
The problem with Mr. DeVine’s argument is that it contains a flawed premise. There is nothing in HB 875 that “forces a private property owner” to do anything with respect to private property. It merely decriminalizes carry in churches and bars, treating such locations, which are private property, similarly to all other private property in Georgia, Mr. DeVine’s house included.
Indeed, HB 875 states, at lines 123 through 127:
124 private property owners or persons in legal control of private property through a lease,
124 rental agreement, licensing agreement, contract, or any other agreement to control access
125 to such private property shall have the right to exclude or eject a person who is in
126 possession of a weapon or long gun on their private property in accordance with
127 paragraph (3) of subsection (b) of Code Section 16-7-21
For your information, Code Section 16-7-21 is Georgia’s criminal trespass law, the exact same law that Mr. DeVine could use if I tried to carry a pistol in his house over his objection, or, for that matter, remain on his property over his objection for any reason whatsoever. The fact that it is not a criminal offense to carry a pistol at Mr. DeVine’s house does not mean that he does not have any private property rights. When HB 875 passes, and it is no longer a criminal offense to carry a pistol at a place of worship, then churches will finally be treated like Mr DeVine's house, with the power to be able to decide this issue for themselves; that is, exercise private property rights.
Today, churches have no private property rights when it comes to firearms. They cannot permit them even if they wanted to, because carrying weapons in places of worship is a criminal offense.
In summary, HB 875 does the exact opposite of what these critics are claiming. It removes a criminal prohibition on exercising the right to bear arms while also expressly protecting private property rights.
UPDATE: Although many of the bill's enemies are still using this mistaken argument, it has been pointed out to me that Mike Devine, the Atlanta Law & Politics Examiner, has updated his article with the following statement in support of HB 875:
Georgia property owners and leaseholders should support Republican passed House Bill 875. It restores the rights of bars, churches, and other properties to allow patrons to carry firearms on to their property while also allowing them the right to exclude them.