- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee says he might pursue new gun restrictions in response to a recently enacted Georgia law that could allow people to carry concealed firearms in parts of the Atlanta airport.

Apparently surprised that some airports long have allowed guns in unsecured areas, Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, said the new Georgia legislation represents a significant hole in national security and a threat to travelers.

He asked the Transportation Security Administration to clarify federal law governing weapons in areas outside security checkpoints. In a letter Monday to TSA Assistant Secretary Kip Hawley, he said, “The committee may seek legislative action to correct this omission” if there are no restrictions.

TSA spokesman Christopher White said Tuesday that no federal prohibitions apply to areas outside security checkpoints and that the agency follows local regulations. He said he didn’t know how many airports allow firearms and declined to say whether the agency has a position on the matter, maintaining that it is focused on keeping guns from getting through security.

“We work within the framework of local laws,” he said.

At issue in Georgia is a law signed by Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue earlier this year that allows residents who have passed criminal background checks to carry concealed weapons onto mass transit, as well as into state parks and restaurants that serve alcohol. The law took effect July 1.

A legal battle quickly erupted over whether the law applies to public areas of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport before travelers pass through security checkpoints.

On the day the new law took effect, Atlanta officials who oversee the airport declared it a “gun-free zone” and said anyone carrying a gun there could be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin argued that allowing guns could endanger people because airports remain attractive targets for terrorism.

Gun rights supporters filed a federal lawsuit challenging the designation, saying the airport qualifies as mass transportation and has restaurants that should be accessible under the new law.

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