Public Gathering???

Discussion in 'General GWL Questions' started by ffej, Aug 22, 2006.

  1. ffej

    ffej New Member

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    I am new to this site. I am enjoying the wealth of knowledge and shared experiences.
    This morning I stopped at a Circle K to get a drink and I noticed a sign in the window that said "Columbia County Sheriff's Sub-Station". I wondered if that technically made it a "public building" like a court house or police station. So, I called the Probate Court office and when I asked the young lady that question, she responded, "you cannot carry a gun in a public gathering of 2 or more people." I told her that didn't sound right and that you can't go many places where there aren't more than 2 people in the same place. She then repeated her statement in a very condescending and aggravated tone of voice. I knew she was very wrong, but didn't want to argue on the phone, so I said "thank you very much" and hung up. I knew I wouldn't get anywhere on the phone with someone like that. So I will visit the courthouse this week to get clarification.
    I have read so many LEO encounters where the law was not known or incorrectly applied, but this is even more unbelieveable - this poor information is being given out by the same office that issues the permits!!!
     

  2. ffej

    ffej New Member

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    Thank you for your response. Can you point me in the right direction to read up on "State vs Burns" and the AG opinions?
    Thanks!
     
  3. Malum Prohibitum

    Malum Prohibitum Moderator Staff Member

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    Please forgive in advance the long answer, but I have included for your use both the statute and the case about which you asked. There was simply no shorter way to state it and give your question the attention it deserves.


    STATUTE

    O.C.G.A. 16-11-127(b) is the public gathering statute.

    "For the purpose of this Code section, 'public gathering' shall include, but shall not be limited to, athletic or sporting events, churches or church functions, political rallies or functions, publicly owned or operated buildings, or establishments at which alcoholic beverages are sold for consumption on the premises. Nothing in this Code section shall otherwise prohibit the carrying of a firearm in any other public place by a person licensed or permitted to carry such firearm by this part."


    Note it lists specifically five places but warns that the list is not exclusive. This leaves us wondering what else might be included in the term "public gathering." This odd statute has lead to all sorts of idle speculation on the part of people that would mostly like to see you carrying nowhere at all. Is it any place where two or more people are present (like your living room most nights)? Is it fifteen or more (as more than one law enforcement official has confidently asserted)? Just what is it?






    CASE LAW

    State v. Burns, 200 Ga. App. 16 (1991) contains the only real guidance we have from the courts on what this statute means. There are other cases (some of which are cited in Burns), but Burns is the only recent case (recent meaning a decade and a half ago) involving a person with a firearms license.

    In the hope that it will be helpful to you, I have quoted the case in its entirety (editing out only a few words near the beginning that really do not matter relating to another charge that was dropped before trial). I have also added paragraph breaks, as there are none in the original opinion. Here is the opinion:




    Appellee was arrested at a McDonald's restaurant [and] . . . had a valid gun permit. . . . . [H]e was charged with carrying a deadly weapon to a public gathering (OCGA § 16-11-127). The trial court granted appellee's motion to dismiss the accusation, stating that McDonald's was not a public gathering as contemplated under the statute, and the State appealed.

    OCGA § 16-11-127(b) provides that a "public gathering" includes but is not limited to "athletic or sporting events, schools or school functions, churches or church functions, political rallies or functions, publicly owned or operated buildings, or establishments at which alcoholic beverages are sold for consumption on the premises."

    The State argues that the statute seeks to protect people from injury at public gatherings, caused by others who bring deadly weapons to such places and does not exclude an establishment such as McDonald's, which is a place where the public lawfully gathers. However, this broad interpretation equates "public gathering" to "public place" and blurs the distinction we must assume the legislature intended to make in specifically referring to gatherings in OCGA § 16-11-127 and by limiting its restriction to gatherings as opposed to proscribing the carrying of deadly weapons in public places as defined by OCGA § 16-1-3(15).

    We agree with appellee [i.e., they agree with the firearms license holder that was arrested] that such a construction would render licensing statutes unnecessary because of the potential of violating the statutes by carrying a weapon outside one's household, in public, where the possibility exists that people might gather around someone carrying a weapon.

    We have held that a conviction was authorized when a weapon was brought to a place where "people were present" (Jordan v. State, 166 Ga.App. 417(4), 304 S.E.2d 522 (1983) [the auto auction case, M.P.]), and it appears from reading subsection (b ) and giving the words their ordinary meaning that the statute should apply, in addition to the situations described therein, when people are gathered or will be gathered for a particular function and not when a weapon is carried lawfully to a public place, where people may gather. Accordingly, the focus is not on the "place" but on the "gathering" of people, and in our view, the court did not err in dismissing the accusation because appellee's possession of a weapon and mere presence in a public place did not constitute a violation of OCGA § 16- 11-127.
    Judgment affirmed.






    I bolded what I thought important.

    " . . . for a particular function . . ." I think that is the most important language in the case. I really think the only difference between this case and Jordan, cited therein, is that Jordan was up to no good and Burns was just lawfully carrying when he ordered a cheeseburger. Since public gathering cases almost always involve a criminal, the case law is usually bad.


    I hope this is helpful. There are some AG opinions as well, but the statute and Burns carry the weight of law.
     
  4. ffej

    ffej New Member

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    Thank you for the informative response!
    As I said earlier, I am new to this site, and will continue to enjoy it.
    BTW, what do yo think about my original question - "The Sheriff's Sub-Station sign on the Circle K - does it make the store a public building like a courthouse or police station?"
     
  5. jrm

    jrm Sledgehammer

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    The statute says "public owned or operated buildings." Circle K is not publicly owned or operated by virtue of allowing the sheriff to hang out there. If there is a separate space in the Circle K devoted to the Sheriff's substation (e.g., if Circle K provides the sheriff an office), then that space may qualify, but even that is a stretch.
     
  6. Malum Prohibitum

    Malum Prohibitum Moderator Staff Member

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    I wouldn't go open carrying in to talk to the deputy in his little alcove, though.

    :jail: