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Zoo Atlanta drops gun ban after legal questions

A handgun. (Photo by Thomas Def via Unsplash.)

By John Ruch

Zoo Atlanta has dropped its new weapons ban following a challenge by a gun rights activist.

The ban was repealed on Oct. 28, the day after SaportaReport confirmed the zoo’s operating agreement appears to legally prevent it from banning guns under Supreme Court of Georgia precedent. But there may still be legal questions.

The zoo’s gun policy has reverted to the one that existed before Sept. 1, which allows weapons “permitted by law.” That policy was created when Georgia required permits to carry a gun, which is no longer necessary after a state law change earlier this year. But the zoo says it still will allow only weapons with a “legal permit.” The zoo also implied it had considered challenging state law but instead is urging government officials to rethink gun policy.

“Zoo Atlanta continues to believe that its decision to prohibit carrying of guns onto Zoo Atlanta grounds is legally supportable and in the best interest of safety,” said the zoo in a written statement to SaportaReport. “At this time, however, Zoo Atlanta is choosing not to undergo the major distraction and expense of litigation, but will instead give public officials an opportunity to consider and address this issue. In the meantime, and effective immediately, Zoo Atlanta’s weapons policy will revert to its original form, which allows guests to carry weapons as permitted by law. Zoo Atlanta recognizes and maintains the right to pursue further analysis of this policy.”

However, there may still be legal confusion because of the original policy’s basis in “permitted weapons.” Zoo spokesperson Rachel Davis said, “Our statement ‘permitted by law’ means that guests may carry only with a legal permit.” But licenses are no longer required to carry guns after this year’s controversial “Constitutional carry” legislation.

The new policy announced last month banned “weapons of all types,” specifically including guns unless they were carried by members of law enforcement. The zoo’s statement said that policy was created “in an effort to enhance and protect the safety of our team members, guests, and the animals in our care.”

But gun activist Phillip Evans has argued that the zoo, located in the City of Atlanta’s Grant Park, is public property. Under state law, guns generally cannot be banned from publicly owned land like city parks.

Evans gained the spotlight in 2014 for an unsuccessful lawsuit challenging a similar gun ban at the Atlanta Botanical Garden within the public Piedmont Park. Earlier this year, he forced the removal of a similar ban at another public-park venue, the Home Depot Backyard outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He also questioned the weapons ban policy of Music Midtown, a concert festival held in Piedmont Park, which may have caused its abrupt cancellation.

Evans said zoo officials were incompetent for instituting a similar ban and suggested they imitated the Garden without understanding the case.

“While it’s good news that lawfully armed citizens won’t need to worry about being accosted at the Zoo, it’s disappointing that a group of educated and well-paid officials could not collectively find a thimbleful of common sense to understand the issue before re-implementing their weapons ban Sept. 1st,” he said in an email. “If they did seek out legal counsel beforehand, they need to consider getting better attorneys that actually understand the law.”

Likewise, Evans said the notion of allowing guns only with a “legal permit” makes no sense in the wake of the “Constitutional carry” law. “Once again, they seem to be unconscious to their own incompetence,” he said.

The zoo is owned by the City and leased to another government body called the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority (AFCRA). Zoo Atlanta, known officially as the Atlanta-Fulton County Zoo, is a private nonprofit that operates the zoo under an operating agreement with AFCRA.

As SaportaReport previously revealed, that agreement explicitly says that the deal gives Zoo Atlanta a “usufruct.” That’s a type of property right the state Supreme Court has ruled does not give a private leaseholder the ability to ban guns on public land. The precedent came out of Evans’ lawsuit against the Garden.

However, no court ruled on the zoo’s gun ban and it is possible legal arguments could be made about other aspects of the agreement. Even if the ban was unlawful, it could only have been challenged by a civil lawsuit.

Evans did not file a lawsuit about the previous ban. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Evans and other gun owners say they previously carried firearms openly at the zoo under the original policy that is now back in effect. The zoo said in its statement, issued at 2:45 p.m. on Oct. 28, that the gun ban repeal was effective immediately, but its website still had the old rule at that time.

Update: This story has been updated with comments from gun rights activist Philip Evans.


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  1. Phillip Evans October 28, 2022 8:28 pm

    “But the zoo says it still will allow only weapons with a ‘legal permit'”.

    Sorry Zoo Officials, but you have zero legal authority to demand to see anyone’s “permit” (it’s actually a weapons carry license).

    Additionally, Georgia’s new “Constitutional Carry” law removes the license requirement for lawful carriers (those who already qualify for a license but have not applied for one).

    So folks if you are questioned by Zoo Security, just smile and wish them a nice day and go on about your business. They are clueless regarding the law.Report

  2. Charles October 29, 2022 12:37 pm

    Won’t be renewing my membership.Report

  3. Emmett October 30, 2022 4:33 pm

    Imagine dedicating your life to ensuring that tools of death and murder are in as many places as possible. A very grim existence that must be.Report

  4. Johnny October 31, 2022 9:19 am

    So when someone without good skills has a negligent discharge or shoots someone and it over penetrates and kills an endangered species I should tell my kids “Well you know the folks should be able to carry to protect themselves from imaginary harm.” I know of one case in all the time the Zoo has been open that would’ve qualified for the use of deadly force, and I’m in law enforcement, highly trained, almost always carry, and still think this is a bad idea.

    My mother used to say “your rights end where someone else’s begin. Rest assured if a constitutional carry person harms my kids because they have insufficient training or make a mistake, you’ll also be named in the suit.Report


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