Midtown gun ban challenged by gun rights advocate
By John Ruch
The Music Midtown concert festival’s gun ban is being challenged by the man who just lost a legal battle for the right to bear arms at the nearby Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Phillip Evans, a Monroe County gun rights advocate, said state law prohibits the Piedmont Park festival from banning guns because it is on public land. His loss in the Botanical Garden case, he says, would be a victory over Music Midtown, because the ruling makes it clear that short-term tenants of a public park cannot ban guns. For now, he is not taking legal action but is asking for the ban on weapons to be lifted.
Music Midtown and its promoter, Live Nation, did not respond to requests for comment. Neither does the city of Atlanta, owner of the park. The Piedmont Park Conservancy, a nonprofit that helps fund and operate the park in conjunction with the city, has no role in allowing Music Midtown or any other closed, ticketed events, according to the president. and Conservancy CEO Mark Banta.
Banta said he had no “idea” on the gun ban issue, indicating that it had not been raised during the Conservancy events. “The Conservancy produces only a handful of fundraisers and has no separate city policies regarding legal determinations,” he said.
In a May 4 letter to the city’s legal department, Evans wrote, “…I ask that you revoke their license to hold the event unless they agree to follow the law of the State and to rescind this policy.”
John Monroe, vice chairman of the board of directors of gun rights groups GA2A and an attorney who represented Evans in the Botanical Garden case, said Evans has a case.
“Based on recent Georgia Supreme Court precedent, Phil is correct that the Music Midtown Festival cannot ban guns (or other weapons),” Monroe said in an email.
However, Monroe said, the city is probably not responsible and Evans should sue the festival. “The remedy is that someone who is harmed by a violation has the ability to sue the violator (in this case, the festival sponsor),” Monroe said. “It’s not really the City’s obligation to ‘monitor’ its permittees to make sure they follow state law.”
In 2014, Evans deliberately tested a gun ban at the Botanical Garden, which takes up much of Piedmont Park. After being kicked out, he and GA2A (then known as GeorgiaCarry.org) filed a lawsuit. After a long and complex legal battle – including two visits to the Georgia Supreme Court – the Botanical Garden won earlier this year in a decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals.
But the legal reasoning that allowed the Garden to ban guns also means Music Midtown cannot, say Evans and Monroe. The main decision in the legal battle came in the 2019 Georgia Supreme Court case GeorgiaCarry.org c. Atlanta Botanical Garden. The Court ruled that a private tenant on public land can only prohibit guns if they have a type of lease called an “estate for years,” a usually long-term agreement that grants them certain rights and responsibilities. ownership, such as constructing buildings and paying property taxes. Short-term tenants in another type of tenancy agreement known as “usufruct” have no such private property rights and cannot prohibit guns, the court said.
Evans ultimately lost because the Court of Appeal later determined that the garden – which has been in the park for decades and has a 50-year lease – does indeed have estate status for years. Music Midtown, an annual two-day festival, probably doesn’t have that kind of deal.
“When we’re talking about a weekend permit to use a park, it’s still essentially a usufruct,” Monroe explains.
Guns have long been banned at “public gatherings” like festivals under state law, but that provision was removed in a 2010 reform.
Music Midtown is set to return to Piedmont Park on September 17-18 with rock band My Chemical Romance headlining.
The festival announced this year’s dates and began updating its website for the first time since fall 2021 around May 16, about two weeks after Evans and SaportaReport started asking about the gun ban. Evans’ objections were based on the list of “allowed and prohibited” items for the 2021 edition on the festival’s website. Since the 2022 announcement, this page has been amended to say “We do not yet have this information available” and that the list is “subject to change”. The 2021 list is still posted for reference and includes a ban on “weapons or explosives of any kind”.
Evans also opposes a 2021 festival-goer search policy.
Evans previously said he could challenge a weapons ban at another Live Nation venue, the Cadence Bank Amphitheater in Chastain Park. This place has a long term lease.
Earlier this year, Georgia’s General Assembly passed a law allowing concealed firearms to be carried without a permit – known as constitutional carry.