A federal appeals court has upheld a Georgia statute that prohibits guns in churches, rejecting the claims of a pastor and a gun rights group that the law violates both the First Amendment’s guarantee of citizens’ right of religious freedom, as well as the Second Amendment guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms. As for the Second Amendment, the three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it “does not give an individual a right to carry a firearm on a place of worship’s premises against the owner’s wishes because such right did not pre-exist the Amendment’s adoption. Enforcing the Carry Law against a license holder who carries a firearm on private property against the owner’s instructions would therefore be constitutional.”
In 2010, the Georgia legislature modified a state conceal-carry law that had prohibited gun owners from bringing their handguns to a “public gathering.” As reported by Courthouse News Service (CNS), the amendment broadened the rights of gun owners to carry handguns in public locales, but specified eight locations where they would continue to be prohibited, “including courthouses, jails or prisons, most bars, mental health facilities, and churches or other places of worship.”
According to CNS, a Second Amendment group called Georgia Carry “has been fighting gun regulations in various cities and counties since 2007. The nonprofit’s former president Edward Stone complained that the law would block him from bringing a firearm to services at the Baptist Tabernacle of Thomaston. He said a gun could be helpful if he needs to defend himself and his family.”
The Rev. Jonathan Wilkins, pastor of the church and also a member of Georgia Carry, filed suit against the state law, arguing that it violated both the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to the free exercise of religion and the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms. But in January 2011, U.S. District Judge C. Ashley Royal ruled against the suit, finding that the gun ban in places of worship does not prevent Georgia residents from attending church and exercising their religious convictions, nor does it conflict with the Second Amendment. “The law only requires that persons either not carry a weapon to a place of worship, leave their weapons secured in their vehicles, or notify security or management personnel of the presence of the weapon,” Royal wrote in his ruling.
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