IN MORE rational times, giving people permission to pack heat in an airport that hosts 84 million passengers a year would seem ludicrous. But these are not reasonable times in America when it comes to gun rights - and wrongs.
The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that supported the individual right to own a gun for self-defense and hunting has made some gun fanatics eager to keep pushing the outside of the envelope, even if that means carrying a handgun into a bustling Georgia airport.
Of course the notion of allowing concealed firearms in the crowded terminal area of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International is fraught with many dangers for the traveling public, but it could happen. If it does, blame it on the Supreme Court.
While the court struck down an arguably extreme District of Columbia ban on private handguns in homes, it left unanswered a key question of what exactly does the Second Amendment right encompass. Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion in the 5-4 decision, found an outright ban on handguns to be unconstitutional but defended the government's authority to enact "reasonable restrictions" on gun possession.
Understandably, that interpretable phrase has lots of gun lawyers salivating, just as it confounds state, federal, and municipal lawyers and officials.
The litigation clock in Georgia began ticking when state legislators decided to relax a prohibition on carrying concealed firearms on public transportation and in other areas, including restaurants serving alcohol.
Republican state Rep. Tim Bearden, who drafted the changes to the state law, believes concealed weapons should be permitted in public places at the airport, including the main lobby, ticketing areas, and restaurants. And he claimed he was fully prepared to test the limits of the new law by walking into the airport, ala High Noon, with a handgun.
Until he backed down after airport officials said they would continue to enforce the ban despite the new law.
Federal law already bans guns past the security checkpoints of U.S. airports, and the city of Atlanta vowed it would not drop its no-gun policy throughout the airport because doing so "would endanger millions of people."
That sounds like a reasonable argument, especially in light of another caveat in the Justice Scalia opinion that supported laws forbidding gun possession in "sensitive places such as schools and government buildings," - or, he might well have added, the nation's busiest airport.
The fact that the court did not more fully address what it meant illustrates the problem of legislating from the bench. What it has created is a de facto statute that undoubtedly will morph into a full-employment act for lawyers and a spate of unending, expensive litigation.