Georgia Gun Laws Weigh on Atlanta’s Bid to Host 2024 Democratic Convention

CHICAGO — The battle between Chicago and Atlanta over hosting the 2024 Democratic convention is heating up with a new claim from Illinois that Georgia’s lenient open-carry gun laws — already an issue with several public events in Atlanta — could make security a nightmare.

With a decision possibly weeks away, officials involved agree that Atlanta and Chicago now appear to lead New York, the third of the finalists still under consideration. Union officials have for weeks pressed President Biden and the Democratic National Committee to pick the more union-friendly city; Chicago has more than 30 unionized hotels while Atlanta has just two, they say.

But recent events have brought a new argument: Georgia’s lenient gun laws could make it extremely difficult to keep firearms away from the delegates. The Secret Service is likely to declare the convention a “national security special event” and supersede state ordinances with its own rules inside a fortified perimeter.

But in hotels, along bus routes and at meetings and parties far from the core convention sites, guns could find their way in, security consultants are warning, especially if Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, holds to his pro-gun views and refuses to intervene.

“It just creates a tense environment,” said Charles H. Ramsey, who once led police forces in Washington and Philadelphia and now does security consulting. “To me it’s an issue.”

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Georgia Democrats have scoffed at the pitch. The State Farm Arena, which would be one of the main sites of the convention should Atlanta win the bid, has protocols in place that prohibit carrying a firearm, despite gun laws that ostensibly allow weapons into most public spaces.

Doug Shipman, president of the Atlanta City Council, said in an interview that the city had hosted big events since the state passed its first open-carry law — derided by opponents as the “guns everywhere” bill — in 2014. The city also had strong security relationships with federal, state and local law enforcement authorities, he added.

But, more to the point, the political significance of hosting the convention in a swing state that Mr. Biden narrowly carried in 2020 may supersede logistical and policy hurdles like gun laws, abortion bans and union hotels, Atlanta boosters said.

“Atlanta offers an enormous amount of historical and current symbolism. It’s obviously the home of the civil rights movement but also more recently the home of, you know, wins by Senators Ossoff and Warnock,” Mr. Shipman said, pointing to the narrow twin electoral victories of Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in 2020, and Mr. Warnock’s victory again last November. “I think there are a lot of different factors that go into that calculus. I’m not sure that the gun laws are going to have any particular impact on the decision.”

Gun laws are already affecting public events in Atlanta. In April 2022 Mr. Kemp signed a measure passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, allowing most Georgians to openly carry a rifle in public spaces without a permit. A few months later, the Midtown Music Festival canceled its annual event after organizers said they were at a loss on how to protect their expected 50,000 visitors. A week later, another event, the 404 Festival, also canceled its gathering over safety concerns.

Then this month, the SweetWater Brewing Company pulled its SweetWater 420 Fest out of Centennial Olympic Park — where the Democratic convention potentially would be — and sharply scaled back the event to hold it in a private indoor space, citing the safety of festivalgoers. Security consultants said that the first open carry law might have been passed in 2014, but repeated mass shootings, the end of permit requirements and the surge of gun violence since 2020 have made insurers take notice and raise the costs of covering large public events.

If nothing else, such headlines are allowing Chicago boosters to spotlight their city’s tough gun control laws and Illinois’s newly enacted, far-reaching ban on high-powered guns and high-capacity magazines. Though full adoption of the law is held up in court, its existence is part of an expansive pitch, including a constitutionally enshrined right to unionize and abortion rights protections, that Chicago is more in step with the party’s values.

Union leaders, who had been pressing their case against Atlanta privately, are also speaking up louder, saying that for many state delegations and union officials, staying in unionized hotels and attending events at unionized venues matter. Some union leaders said they had remained quiet when then-President Barack Obama chose Charlotte, N.C., for the 2012 convention. This time, they won’t.

“Joe Biden is the most pro-union president in history, and having it in a pro-union town reinforces that record and sends a message,” said Ross Templeton, political and legislative director of the International Association of Iron Workers.

Jonathan Weisman reported from Chicago and Maya King from xxx.

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