Music Midtown canceled over Georgia’s gun laws, highlighting legal gray area : NPR

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A crowd of people attends the Music Midtown festival in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park on Sept. 16, 2018.

Paul R. Giunta/Invision/AP


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A crowd of people attends the Music Midtown festival in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park on Sept. 16, 2018.

Paul R. Giunta/Invision/AP

Organizers of Music Midtown, a major festival in Atlanta, announced Monday that the two-day event originally scheduled for next month is canceled. Though the official announcement cites “circumstances beyond our control,” local media outlets report the reason for the cancellation is one that’s unexpected: Georgia’s gun laws.

This scenario is indicative of a problematic gray area in Georgia’s gun laws, according to Timothy Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University.

Generally, if a gun owner wants to bring a weapon to a public park or some other public venue, the law of the state protects the person’s right to do so, Lytton said. Private properties, like a private university or a business, are allowed under certain circumstances to stop a person from bringing in a firearm, he said.

“And now we have an unclear case: What happens if you have a privately organized concert but in a very public venue like a city park? Is that a private event? Or is that a public venue? And the answer to that is somewhat unclear,” Lytton told NPR.

Music Midtown is held at Piedmont Park — a public park not far from Atlanta’s downtown. Headliners were set to include My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Future and Jack White.

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, sources familiar with the decision said Music Midtown pulled the plug on the event because of a recent court ruling that could limit the organizers’ ability to ban guns during the festival.

The news outlet said that a recent Georgia appeals court ruling made it harder for private groups to restrict gun owners from bringing their weapons to “short-term events” on public land. The appeals court ruling related specifically to the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s ability to bans guns from the property.

Organizers of Music Midtown aren’t commenting on those reports specifically and haven’t responded to NPR’s request for comment.

The organizers posted on the canceled event’s website and social media: “Hey Midtown fans – due to circumstances beyond our control, Music Midtown will no longer be taking place this year. We were looking forward to reuniting in September and hope we can all get back to enjoying the festival together again soon.”

Billie Eilish performs during Music Midtown in 2019.

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Billie Eilish performs during Music Midtown in 2019.

Paul R. Giunta/Invision/AP

Doug Shipman, the president of the Atlanta City Council, alluded to the reason being the state’s gun laws. He tweeted about the cancellation, saying: “Public policy has real impacts and in this case- economic and social implications on a great tradition.”

In the case of Music Midtown, the organizers are seeking to use a public venue (Piedmont Park) but would be considered short-term tenants that are not leasing the property long term, Lytton said. If they were to carry on with a ban on guns for the event, they could be at risk of a lawsuit from someone wanting to challenge this policy.

Other businesses in Georgia have been in similar situations, Lytton said. Out of fear of litigation and because of uncertainty in the law, private organizations that run events in public venues have opted to lift any gun bans.

“My guess is that the [Music Midtown] organizers may be nervous about what would happen in court and so they want to figure out some sort of solution prior to that and come out with a statement as to whether or not they’re going to lift the ban or whether or not they’re gonna stick by their guns, as it were, and wait to see what happens through litigation,” Lytton said.

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