AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Georgia Liability Bill for Gun Free Zones Attacked Over Property Rights Concerns

I write about the Second Amendment, but it’s not the only right I hold dear. I’m also a big proponent of property rights. In fact, I’m fine with businesses opting to prohibit people from bringing guns into their stores or offices. It’s their property, they can do what they want.

Plus, frankly, I like it when people self-identify as someone who doesn’t respect my rights.

In Georgia, there’s a bill under consideration that would place liability on businesses that are gun-free. If someone is shot because they couldn’t carry a gun, the business may be liable for the damages.

This is something I’ve long believed we need.

However, some are attacking the measure, claiming it’s a violation of the businesses’ property rights.

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.

Now, I’m sympathetic, but only to a point.

See, the issue with the author’s example is that his parents physically signed a form waiving liability. There was a discussion and an understood risk and a formal declaration that one understood the dangers–dangers that aren’t the result of a third party’s actions.

But what we’re talking about here is a bit different.

This is simply a matter of a sign on the door telling me to leave my rights at the door. It’s telling me I don’t need to have the means of defending myself. That’s accepting the onus of ensuring my safety unless we come to an agreement otherwise.

Yet gun-free zones don’t really make it a discussion. You’re basically disarmed if you seek to use their services period.

However, there’s another aspect to this that does need to be mentioned, that the author was likely unaware of, and that’s how gun-free zone signs on business doors have no force of law. See, you can carry a gun in any place not expressly declared off-limits under state or federal law and no sign on the door is going to prevent you.

It may make it clear that the business in question doesn’t respect your rights, but you can still carry a firearm inside.

If you’re discovered to be carrying, they can ask you to leave and if you fail to do so, you’re guilty of criminal trespass.

Why is that relevant? Because you can still exercise your right to keep and bear arms without violating the law, even if a business would prefer you didn’t.

Under that condition, the bill might well be argued to be unneeded. 

Either way, we’re dealing with a thorny issue here, trying to balance property rights with the right of individuals to keep and bear arms. I think we should have discussions about this balance.

On the same token, though, I’m not really capable of a great deal of sympathy for people who seek to restrict my rights with a blanket prohibition.

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