Feds Deny Georgia's 'Right of Retreat' Law at Atlanta Airport


Presenter: Matt Kilgo, Firearms Program Attorney for U.S. Law Shield of Georgia

Hi, this is Matt Kilgo, firearms program attorney for U.S. Law Shield here in Georgia. The issue today is your protected right of retreat if you’re found in a government building with a firearm. Now, for those of you that know and for those of you that don’t, Georgia law has written into the law a protected right of retreat for weapons-carry license holders. What that means is, is if you attempt to enter a government building that has law-enforcement screening and they find that you have a firearm, normally you’ll be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.

If you’re a weapons-carry license holder, however — and you must have the license with you for this to work — you have a statutory right of retreat.

For those who attempt to enter a government building or have been denied entry after failure to clear security due to carrying a firearm, you’re supposed to be given the opportunity to leave. And the law even says that you shall not be found guilty of violating the code section that doesn’t allow you to carry firearms into a government building.

Well, this used to apply to the airport as well. If you forgot that you had a gun in your bag, you picked up the wrong bag in the morning, you’re going through security and the TSA finds the firearm, if you’re a weapons-carry license holder, the TSA would make sure that everything is okay and then they’d escort you to the door. That’s your right of retreat.

On May 24th, 2016 the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia — that’s the Atlanta district, the district in which the Atlanta airport is located — issued a media advisory, and that media advisory said that no longer will you be allowed to exercise your right of retreat at the screening center. Now, Georgia has granted that right; but the federal government still criminalizes the possession of a firearm at a security check point.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said, if you try to go through the security checkpoint with a firearm, you’re going to be stopped. If you’re a weapons-carry license holder, you’ll either be issued a citation or arrested, and that case will be referred to the FBI. The FBI will send that case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and you’ll be prosecuted in Federal court. That’s if you’re a weapons-carry license holder.

If you attempt to enter the screening facility without a weapons-carry license, you will be arrested and your case will be referred to the Clayton County Solicitor’s office. That’s the prosecutor who presides over that area of the county. The solicitor prosecutes misdemeanors, and that portion of the airport is in Clayton County.

What that means is, then, if you’re a weapons-carry license holder, whereas you used to have a right of retreat, they may now potentially punish you more harshly because you’re a weapons-carry license holder by sending your case to Federal court. If you’re not a weapons-carry license holder, your case goes to Clayton County, just like it always would.

So, I’m sure this issue’s not over, and I suspect that there’s going to be litigation about it because it seems to treat two classes of people differently, weapons-carry license holders and non-license holders. It actually seems to treat weapons-carry license holders more harshly. But the fact is this: Be very careful. Where before you could rely on your statutory right of retreat, now it seems as though the U.S. Attorney’s Office is saying you can’t.

So, if you’re a weapons-carry license holder or not, be very careful before you go through that security check point. Make sure you don’t have any weapons in your bag. Make sure that there’s nothing in there that can cause you some concern. Travel safely, and good luck.

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