Georgia Could Make 'Gun Free Zone' Shop Owners Liable For Injuries On Property

P. Gardner Goldsmith | March 4, 2024
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One might be bewildered to discover that some principled defenders of the right to keep and bear arms are supporting a Georgia bill that ostensibly puts state power behind that right to self-defense, but which actually undercuts other fundamental rights.

Bearing Arms’ Cam Edwards reports on the status of the Georgia legislation:

“Under HB 1364, introduced by Rep. Martin Momtahan, property owners who forbid lawful concealed carry would assume responsibility for the safety of their customers, which means they would be liable for any injuries suffered if they are unable to protect themselves on the premises.”

Such a proposal might appeal to people who recall the horrific 1991 experience of Suzanna Hupp, who had a firearm in her car, but, because Texas law at the time forbade it, she did not bring the weapon into the Killeen, TX, restaurant where a mass-shooter soon killed 24 people, or it might appeal to people who recall the more recent fact that numerous victims of a mass-shooter in Lewiston, Maine, were inside a bowling alley that had a sign on the door indicating it was “gun free.”

As crime researcher John Lott has explained, people with criminally violent intent tend to avoid places where they can reasonably surmise that potential victims might be armed.

But those who might support this Georgia bill or the idea of proposing similar legislation elsewhere (the Wyoming House just passed a wide block of “gun free zones” on government property, but it does not apply to private choice, on private property) might want to reconsider, and consider the rights they attack when pushing this kind of bill.

Related: Hello, Black Market: CA Assembly Passes HUGE New Tax on Guns & Ammo | MRCTV

Edwards refers to Doug Richards’ TV 11 Atlanta report on the proposal, which features quotes from Rep Momtahan, and reads, in part:

"All we want to make sure is, if you’re in the store or anywhere and it has a 'no gun' sign, then that store needs to understand they have absolute custodial care of that person" who wants to carry a legal firearm but isn't allowed, Momtahan said. 

That means the store becomes legally liable for the safety of the gun owner whose gun has been banished from the property.”




In other words, this bill claims for the state the power to tell a property owner and his potential client that they cannot engage in freedom of association on their own terms. The terms are being imposed by the government. When someone owns private property and asks another person to enter on certain terms, he has a right to ask and the potential visitor has a right to decline. Such freedom allows others to see and test those earlier arrangements.

By claiming that the property owner would take on the obligation of "custodial care" when a customer enters his private property, Mr. Momtahan is imposing his own will on the others. It’s the politician TELLING the property owner he takes on that obligation. In fact, when two parties agree to one gaining admittance into the property of another, the other takes on "contractual care" not state-mandated “custodial care” – and this bill breaches their right to engage in contracts on their own terms.

Let me offer an example. For many of our teenage years, my brother and I used to swim in a quarry close to our house, and the owners, who were attorneys, allowed us to go once our family paid $20.00 and signed a waiver of liability, stipulating that if we got hurt there, the owner would not be liable for our actions. This GA bill stands in complete contradistinction from that privately reached form of agreement. It implies that private property is "public" – but public property is, and only is, that which takes people's tax money to function, all other property, even if the owner opens the door to lots or people, is private, and operates based on Natural Rights. 

Adds Richards:

“His bill HB 1364 says, ‘Any lawful weapons carrier who is prohibited from carrying… and who is injured… shall have a cause of action against the person, business or other entity that owns or legally controls such property.’”

One would only have a cause of action if there were a breach of contract or if the property owner forced the person onto his land or into his business, shop, bar, etc., and disarmed that person. Otherwise, the parties have agreed to the arrangement, and no third party has a right to interfere.

But HB 1364 clouds that principle of freedom, hiding it behind enthusiasm for what some might purport to be a “gun-rights” bill.

It is important to avoid getting caught in this kind of legalistic trap, this kind of legislative false choice. Having the state impose artificial, political, terms on free association is no better than the state threatening to take away people’s firearms.

And the act of government taking away the right to keep and bear arms must be distinguished from the right of a property owner to ask that others enter that property on his or her terms, not terms imposed by politicians.

Seeing this bill clearly allows one to see the wider scope of individual liberty, and it is important to avoid being fooled into thinking such superficially attractive proposals are not threats to freedom.



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