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By: Marissa Dunn
The annual Music Midtown music festival marks the end of summer for Atlantans. People come from all over to hear lineups that have included Post Malone, Kendrick Lamar, Mumford & Sons, Bruno Mars, and more. At its peak over 300,000 people were in attendance, and the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported that the festival annually generates $50 million. But, the Music Midtown organizers just announced that they are cancelling the festival for 2022, scheduled for September 17th and 18th. According to the organizers, the reason for the cancellation is because Georgia’s gun laws do not allow the festival to exclude guns.
O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127 allows lawful weapons carriers to carry guns in all places except those excluded by the statute. According to this statute, lawful weapons carriers can bring their guns everywhere except: government buildings, courthouses, jails and prisons, houses of worship, certain mental health facilities, and nuclear power facilities. Private property owners or persons in control of private property (for example, by a lease) are also authorized to exclude and eject gun carriers.
So, why can’t Music Midtown exclude and eject gun carriers from its event? Music Midtown is held each year in Piedmont Park – a publicly owned park. The park is public—but the statute only allows private landowners to exclude guns. Two decisions in a case involving the Atlanta Botanical Garden interpreted whether tenants leasing public land can exclude guns from the premises: GeorgiaCarry.Org, Inc. v. Atlanta Botanical Garden, Inc., 306 Ga. 829 (2019), and GeorgiaCarry.Org, Inc. v. Atlanta Botanical Garden, Inc., 362 Ga. App. 413 (2022).
The Atlanta Botanical Garden also sits in Piedmont Park, and wanted to continue its long-standing no-gun policy after O.C.G.A. § 16-11-127 was enacted. The Georgia Supreme Court held that there are two types of leases: usufruct or a “leasehold estate.” A usufruct essentially allows the tenant to do certain things on the landlord’s land, but does not grant any type of ownership rights. A usufruct tenant is “borrowing” the land with many limitations on what it can do with it. However, a “leasehold estate” is much more like an ownership interest. Leasehold estates are presumed when the lease is over 5 years. Moreover, leasehold estates come with fewer restrictions on what the tenant can do with the property, and are taxable to the tenant. The Court found that although Atlanta Botanical Garden was renting public land from the City of Atlanta, its lease was a “leasehold estate” making it a private property owner authorized to exclude guns from its premises.
Music Midtown does not have a leasehold estate in its two-day event in Atlanta. Therefore, under the Music Midtown organizers’ interpretation of the law, because they are renting public land without a leasehold estate, the laws concerning guns on public land would apply, and they would have to allow lawful gun owners to carry guns on that property. Music Midtown is not a “private property owner” or a person “in control of private property” who can exclude or eject guns under the law.
Sorry music lovers, but for Music Midtown to be gun-free, they must move to private land. Or perhaps the organizers could petition Atlanta Botanical Garden to host the festival so Atlantans can party with the plants.