Saturday, Feb 6th, 2016, I took my two children to Hudgens Art Center's Family Day Celebration in Duluth, Georgia. Got there around 11:50am and stayed about an hour.
This particular building is part of the Infinite Energy Center, formerly known as Gwinnett Center. It is public property owned by Gwinnett County.
I was openly carrying my holstered pistol as is my usual custom (I am licensed to carry), as I had done on my prior visit there in 2014. No one had any problem with it, nor did anyone approach me about it (although I was approached by an employee in 2014 who acknowledged that I had the right to carry there, and I continued that visit while armed).
We stayed in the Art Zone section there for a while as my children did some crafts. I even sat with my daughter in the story-time room while we listened to a nice lady tell a mouse story and was entertained by her afterwards with a puppet show about a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly.
During craft time, other children joined us at the little round table, and their parents did not seem concerned that I was armed.
We also walked around inside the fine arts portion of the building looking at paintings, photographs, and other art, and then went outside to view their sculpture garden, and then went back inside.
As we were leaving, some of the employees or volunteers told us to come back again. Nice folks there. I'm sure they had to have seen the full-sized CZ75B pistol holstered on my hip.
Perhaps the fact they enjoyed a little protection while I was there is the reason they wanted me back?
Did You See That Sign?
What was interesting was a little sign I had not noticed on our last visit there. That's not very remarkable, as this was only our second visit. Also, there are two parts to the main entrance – one is around the corner from the other, and only one set of doors displayed the sign:
“No firearms or weapons allowed in this building, excluding law enforcement.”
I read the sign on my way in, and deliberately disobeyed it, the rascal that I am. During my visit I saw no police officers there, at least none that were in uniform, nor was anyone else openly carrying a firearm. I suppose some folks may have been concealing one. In any case, the only person there that I was absolutely certain of being armed, was myself.
That was a bit of a sobering thought, for if any armed evil-doers entered to cause injury and death during the time I was there, for all I knew, I'd be the only immediate responder to try and save lives.
Because of that silly, little sign illegally placed there by someone ignorant of state law, I would have no backup for the first few minutes of an attack, assuming most people obey such signs.
Regarding the “excluding law enforcement” portion of the sign, I certainly was not wearing any sort of uniform. Perhaps they thought that since I had carried my pistol past the sign, it meant to them that I must be either a bad guy or a police officer. And with my children with me, they crossed the bad guy option off the list. When you do that, what do you have left?
In any case, they did not call for an officer to check me out to see if I was indeed an off-duty police officer. To make it clear, I am not a law enforcement officer.
Perhaps I should send this report to Atty. R. Lee Tucker, Jr., who represents Explore Gwinnett which manages Infinite Energy Center, the public Gwinnett County property that includes the Hudgens Art Center building, to let him know that I have once again defied their illegal “no weapons” policy, since he had emailed me in the past to “govern yourself accordingly” with regard to that policy. I took that to mean I might have to face some sort of consequence if I did not govern myself accordingly.
Paper Mache Tiger?
I wonder if he will confirm that their policy merely consists of a door sign and website statement that is not enforceable, or one that could be enforced if they chose to do so – but that they have chosen not to do so yet, at least for Hudgens Art Center.
I'm only speculating, but perhaps they do enforce their policy for the other buildings on the property, only Hudgens must be their neglected, red-headed step child. I do know that I was not accosted when I openly carried my pistol at the Art Expo last year inside their Convention Center building.
As I have now carried my pistol in an open fashion three times total (make that four times total if you count the time that I concealed at their Arena building for a hockey game in 2015, and then openly carried on my way out as I left the building from the point of the restroom), at three different buildings, it would seem that I am helping to establish the law that public buildings may not legally have a policy to ban weapons under state law, unless the building is either a federal building, courthouse building, jail, prison, mental ward, school (debatable – see HB 826 passed in 2014) -
Or qualifies as a “government building” per OCGA 16-11-127 and if the “government building” screens entrants for weapons – this is from HB 60 which became law July 1st, 2014.
Atty. Tucker has graciously and promptly answered my emails to assure me, not once but twice, that none of the Infinite Energy Center buildings at 6400 Sugarloaf Pkwy qualifies as “government buildings”.
Interestingly, he is using that as the support or basis for their supposed authority to prohibit weapons. However, the state's position on the matter is that I may lawfully carry in ALL areas of the state unless certain public property is named specifically as off-limits under state law, or private property where they wish to ban weapons.
Preemption Strengthened - Still Resisted
HB 492, which became law July 1st, 2015, strengthened Georgia's weapons preemption law with the added words, “by any other means” when discussing ways in which local governments might illegally attempt to regulate the possession and carrying of weapons.
Signs on doors and polices published on websites are examples of “means” not previously spelled out in the law. The “by any other means” covers them all quite well.
In Georgia, state preemption law regarding weapons is actually quite well written compared to many other laws. Finding ambiguity in this law might require a significant effort of intellect self-warping.
Yet, in Georgia we still have a few pockets of resistance. Various public entities and their actors still feel they can flout the law, because well, they feel they “have to do something” about guns. And if they have to somehow illegally persuade lawful carriers of weapons to disarm, that is worth breaking state law to them.
Arrogant Local Officials Not Unique To Georgia
Georgia is not unique in this regard. I am personally aware of such type shenanigans that were either eventually favorably resolved or are still on-going in Alabama, Florida, Texas, and Tennessee – all which have firearms state preemption, where their state general assemblies have reserved to themselves the entire matter of the regulation of firearm possession and carry.
Stay Tuned For Any Updates!
Special thanks to GeorgiaCarry.org for helping to greatly improve Georgia's weapons carry laws over the last several years by respectfully working with our lawmakers.