Atlanta festival cancellation sparks new gun battle

ATLANTA — Tens of thousands of festival-goers from Music Midtown will no longer descend to Atlanta’s massive Piedmont Park next month to cheer on hip-hop star Future or watch beloved rock band My Chemical Romance take the stage.

In fact, some people are convinced that Atlanta, the center of the country’s hip-hop music scene, will lose more music festivals and performances on public land as organizers and performers learn that state law makes it nearly impossible for them to prevent people from carrying guns between the alcohol-fuelled crowd.

That prospect has sparked another battle over gun rights in Georgia, raising the governor’s race, casting a shadow over Atlanta’s vaunted music scene and heightening tension between the city and the state.

Live Nation has declined to say why it recently canceled Music Midtown in September, a fixture for pop music lovers.

But news outlets, citing unnamed sources, attributed last week’s announcement to a 2019 Georgia Supreme Court decision that put limits on the ability of private companies to ban guns on public property. The ruling stemmed from a 2014 state law that expanded the locations where guns were allowed.

Democrats, led by Georgian governor candidate Stacey Abrams, jumped on the news, citing the cancellation as an example of the kind of economic fallout the state would experience from Republican administration Brian Kemp’s “extreme weapons agenda.” Although the gun law cited in reports on Music Midtown was enacted under Kemp’s Republican predecessor, Kemp this year was a major supporter of a new state law that eliminates the need for a license — and therefore a background check — to fire a gun. public.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial warned that gun policies threaten Atlanta’s status as the “cultural capital of the South.” Atlanta City Council Speaker Doug Shipman lamented this year’s loss of Music Midtown, as well as the timing.

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“All of these things culminate at the time when we should be coming out of COVID with music festivals and people gathering, a lot of economic activity,” he told The Associated Press.

Immediate ramifications aside, the battle also contributed to a disconnect between Georgia’s heavily democratic capital and the GOP-controlled state legislature that recently expanded gun rights and restricted abortion and voting access. State leaders bumped heads with major Atlanta-based companies Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola over the vote changes, calling the companies “unacceptable.”

Live Nation did not respond to emails about the cancellation of Music Midtown. The festival’s website called “circumstances beyond our control,” but no one from the company has publicly blamed the state’s gun laws.

Phillip Evans, a gun rights activist who had previously sued the Atlanta Botanical Garden over its gun-free policy, said he warned Music Midtown organizers that their gun-ban policy violated state law. Evans’ lawsuit led to the 2019 Supreme Court ruling that private companies with a certain type of lease on public land could not ban guns.

Live Nation planned to host the festival in Piedmont Park – public land – where the festival has been held every year since 2011, with the exception of 2020 regarding the coronavirus. And it almost certainly fell into the leasing category that would make a gun ban illegal.

“In Music Midtown terms, it’s pretty much a no-brainer that they can’t ban guns there,” said John Monroe, an attorney who represented a gun rights group in the state Supreme Court case.

Canceling the gun law event would make sense from Live Nation’s perspective, said Timothy Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University.

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A mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas in 2017, which claimed more than 50 lives, cost MGM Resorts International — the owner of the concert hall — and its insurers $800 million in legal claims. With no limits on guns, Live Nation looked at potentially “astronomical” liability risks at Music Midtown, Lytton said.

The cancellation was a blow to Georgia’s economy and local businesses.

Abrams said in a statement that Kemp “cares more about protecting dangerous people who carry guns in public than saving jobs and keeping business in Georgia,” and her campaign this week ran an attack ad targeting the cancellation. . Democrats in other states weighed in too.

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak tweeted: “Here in Nevada, we believe in common sense gun safety and protecting our reproductive rights. @MusicMidtown, we’d love to have you in the Silver State!” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper also invited Music Midtown to his state.

Kemp accused Abrams and other Democrats of “pushing” critical narratives about the Georgian gun landscape to distract from inflation he attributes to party policy.

Georgia also recently took fire from Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom over a state law banning most abortions once fetal heart activity is present. The law went into effect last month.

Newsom last week ran an ad in the entertainment magazine “Variety” urging film companies to end production in states, including Georgia, which he accused of “a brutal attack on essential rights.” .

Kemp told reporters last week that he was not concerned about attempts by Democratic governors, including in California, to lure business out of Georgia.

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“Have you checked gas prices in those states lately?” Kemp said, citing strong industrial development, tourism and movie numbers in Georgia.

Gun rights advocates have identified at least one other Atlanta music venue that they believe could violate the 2014 gun law — Chastain Park, which has an amphitheater in an affluent residential area and bans “guns” at shows.

But the activists say they don’t want to close events, but want to protect themselves.

“When I go somewhere in a big crowd, I want to be able to carry my firearm,” said Jerry Henry, executive director of Georgia Second Amendment. “I will assure you that there will be criminals.”

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Associated Press writers Jeff Amy and Bill Barrow contributed to this report.

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