Georgia’s New Gun Law and Convenience Store Safety

By HunterMaclean Attorneys, special to Business in Savannah

Georgia’s “Safe Carry Protection Act” went into effect July 1 of this year, expanding gun owners’ rights to carry their weapons openly and to defend themselves. Dubbed the “guns everywhere bill” by its critics, the law polarized voters and inspired inflammatory polemics from both ends of the political spectrum.

On the first day that the new law took effect, there was a highly publicized altercation between two customers in a Valdosta convenience store, both of whom wore handguns in holsters. One of the men demanded to see the other’s open-carry permit and ID, and when the other refused, the first man drew his gun, keeping it pointed at the floor. Again he requested the other’s permit and ID, and again the man refused. He then paid for his purchases, left the store, and called the police, who arrested the aggressor for disorderly conduct.

While this incident drew a lot of attention and generated hyperbole, it also highlights some key provisions of the Safe Carry Protection Act. Convenience store and gas station owners should be aware of the elements of the new law that can impact their store’s safety, and to avoid potential legal troubles down the line.

First, the new law forbids store owners, or anyone else, from asking to see another person’s carry permit. This has been one of the most hotly contested sections of the law; no matter how a customer presents him or herself, store personnel are forbidden to detain that person for even a moment to ask if he or she is legally permitted to carry the weapon. Most important to note in this circumstance is that detaining such a customer risks a civil suit for the store owner. In fact, even the police are forbidden to ask for proof of a citizen’s right to carry; the law is explicit on this point. The police may ask for a permit only if they are certain a crime is being, or has been, committed.

It is within a convenience store or gas station owner’s rights to prohibit possession of firearms on their premises only if the store owner has full legal control of the property. Some stores, including retail giant Target, have already respectfully requested that customers do not bring firearms into their stores, even in places such as Georgia where it is permitted by law. This is a decision best made on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration potential liability if violence erupts on the business premises, and how such a stance might encourage or discourage patronage. Also, it bears noting that an owner’s choice to make their store gun-free will not legally extend to the parking lot of the property.

While the altercation that occurred earlier this summer has so far been an isolated incident, it is likely that convenience stores will see an increase in armed patrons as more gun owners exercise the rights bestowed upon them by the new law. In the meantime, it’s essential for convenience store and gas station owners and others to understand the complexities of their own rights under the Safe Carry Protection Act.