Although the city is not currently pursuing a ban on guns in city parks – specifically, Briscoe Park – an uproar was caused when the issue even made it to the June 11 city council meeting agenda for discussion.
Mayor Kelly Kautz was quick to clarifying her intent.
“First and foremost, this was an agenda item on the mayor and council work session for discussion purposes only,” she wrote in a letter to the editor. “No action has been proposed in the City of Snellville in relation to firearms.
...Our city attorney has been asked to review the existing state laws on having a firearm in the city park, Briscoe, and to review the incident of what happen in a corresponding Gwinnett city.”
That last statement increased the buzz around town and online, causing multiple personalities to issue statements of their own.
Ed Stone, lawyer and founding member of GeorgiaCarry.org, has litigated several issues regarding the right to bear arms. He took particular issue with Kautz's citing of O.C.G.A. 16-11-126, and her claim that it was “ambiguous.”
“The law she cited really doesn't have anything to do with the carrying of firearms in parks,” Stone said to Snellville Patch. “There is a provision about parks, but that refers to state parks. Cities can't do anything.”
In fact, said Stone, the city of Atlanta was an early litigant involving firearm companies. They attempted to sue the companies for damage firearms did in their city.
“The City lost that in court,” said Stone, “because they said was an attempt to regulate firearms. There has never been a successful city or county litigant because the preemption law is so clear.”
The incident in question referred to by Mayor Kautz surrounds Christopher Proescher, who was arrested for criminal trespass because he was carrying a gun at a Sugar Hill, Ga., park.
Lawyer John Monroe, who represents Proescher, said that Proescher was detained for carrying a gun in the park and “for being rude.” Regarding a ban on guns in parks, Monroe agreed that “the city is completed preempted from having an ordinance like that.”
Having a gun with you is “like carrying insurance on your car, or having a fire extinguisher,” according to Monroe.
“It's not because you expect to use it,” he said, “But if you need it, you really don't have the time to go and get one.”
Georgia has experienced murders in parks before. In 2008, student Meredith Emerson was hiking in North Georgia near Vogel State Park when a drifter kidnapped and killed her.
While most of our commenters on the original were against any discussion of a ban, some are strongly opposed to guns inside any park, city or otherwise.
“... The citizens of Snellville have a right to a sense of public safety which the alleged criminal, Mr. Proescher, clearly violated,” wrote Patch reader Joe Muster. “The Gwinnett police have a duty to maintain the peace, not simply restore it after a gun crime has been committed.”
David Brown wrote, “... I would be quite nervous being in Briscoe Park with someone other than a law enforcement officer possessing a firearm.”
Sylvia Clower countered the sense of anxiety surrounding guns in parks by saying, “When you refuse to allow a citizen to carry a weapon, you invite criminals because they will know individuals will have no protection.”
According to State Rep. Brett Harrell, the person who is licensed to carry is not a threat to anyone.
“The fear is unwarranted,” Harrell said.
According to Harrell, individuals who are licensed and registered have the intent to protect, not harm. In fact, he is in favor of expanding the areas where licensed people can carry guns.
Regarding a ban on guns in Briscoe park, he believes the law is very clear.
“With a cursory review, attorney or not, it should be clear within five minutes that it's not within the jurisdiction of the city to decide,” he said. “What the city can legally do, if the mayor is really concerned about people with firearms in Brisco, what they have the authority to do is close the park to everyone. But they can't prohibit a law-abiding, properly licensed citizen to carry it into the park.”
Because Briscoe is a city-owned park and not under the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, according to Kautz, it may fall under a different set of guidelines.
“...The question is can someone carry a weapon inside Briscoe Park,” she wrote in her letter to the editor, “and if they can, do they need a carrying permit and in what manner can they carry it? These are the questions that we have asked our city attorney to review.”