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Home Depot Backyard firearms ban may be lifted after advocate’s latest complaint

The Home Depot Backyard, with Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the background, at the time of its opening in 2018. (Photo from the Backyard's Facebook page)

By John Ruch

A firearms ban at the Home Depot Backyard park at Mercedes-Benz Stadium may be removed after the latest agitation by a gun rights advocate.

Phillip Evans is the Monroe County resident who unsuccessfully sued the Atlanta Botanical Garden for the right to carry a gun and this month claimed the weapons ban at the Music Midtown concert festival in Piedmont Park violates state law.

Now Evans is taking aim at the Backyard’s gun ban, and its owner, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA), apparently agrees with removing it.

The Backyard is an 11-acre park next to the stadium along Northside Drive in Downtown Atlanta. It is open to the public and is also used for various events, including tailgating at Atlanta Falcons football and Atlanta United soccer games.

Evans said in a May 18 email to the GWCCA that a ban on firearms and “weapons of any kind” stated on the Backyard’s website is illegal because weapons are allowed in publicly owned parks. The GWCCA, a state-created government body, owns the stadium and the surrounding land.

“Such misinformation may cause a lawful [gun] carrier to be unarmed and at risk of a criminal confrontation,” Evans wrote. “Should someone be injured or killed in the park by a criminal, I’m sure any public misinformation that possibly led them to be unable to defend themselves would not look good from a legal standpoint, especially now that you have been notified in writing.”

Evans provided SaportaReport with a May 19 email response from GWCCA attorney Pargen Robertson, who wrote that he spoke with the Falcons about the issue.

“They indicated they have reviewed your concern, and are willing to make the appropriate change to the Home Depot Backyard website,” Robertson wrote. “We will follow up with the team to make sure all is resolved.”

Robertson did not say exactly what that change would be, and as of the afternoon of May 20, the website still listed the firearms and weapons ban. The GWCCA and the Falcons did not respond to comment requests, and Robertson could not be reached for immediate comment.

State law allows the carrying of weapons on public property with some exceptions. Evans earlier this year lost his legal battle with the Garden, which is within the City of Atlanta’s Piedmont Park but can ban guns because it has some private property rights as a long-term tenant. That exception does not apply to short-term tenants like festivals or to park property in general, according to the gun rights group GA2A.

In 2019, GA2A — based on an earlier ruling in Evans’ Garden case — also challenged the Falcons’ ban on carrying guns inside the stadium. The team at the time said it would not lift the ban, and it appears there was no legal challenge. The stadium team may qualify as a long-term tenant and GA2A has said the GWCCA once argued it is a government building due to some type of state office inside, which can qualify it for a ban if security screenings are put in place.

The GWCCA also owns Centennial Olympic Park, whose policy on prohibited activities does not include any firearms or weapons ban.

Earlier this year, the Georgia General Assembly passed a law allowing the toting of concealed firearms without a permit — so-called Constitutional carry.

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