Callaway Gardens has shot down an effort by a Georgia right-to-bear-arms group to hold its annual convention at the nature resort in Harris County, with the possibility that the event could be relocated to Columbus.
Jerry Henry, executive director of GeorgiaCarry.Org, a Second Amendment group with 8,200 members, said Friday he received word earlier this week that Callaway Gardens would not allow convention-goers to pack weapons during its Aug. 2-3 gathering at the gardens.
“My only complaint about it is they didn’t tell us from day one,” said Henry, who explained that he and the group’s treasurer visited the resort about three months ago to explore having the convention there.
The two men were both carrying pistols openly and explained that the 300 to 400 GeorgiaCarry.Org members expected to attend the convention would have guns with them, as well and carry the firearms — primarily pistols — throughout the gardens in August.
“Callaway Gardens sent us a contract,” Henry said. “Our president and treasurer noticed it didn’t say anything about carrying firearms, so they put an amendment on it that said we would be allowed to carry firearms anywhere on the facility. Then about three weeks later, they called back and said, no, you can’t do that.”
Rachel Crumbley, director of marketing and public relations at Callaway Gardens, issued an email statement Friday explaining the pro-gun group was “incorrectly” told during the site visit that they could open-carry their weapons, even though the resort’s longtime policy prohibits that.
“Business contracts are taken very seriously,” Crumbley said in the email. “When received, the (Callaway) team members were moved to confirm the weapons policy, which has been in place for decades with very few issues. A counter-signed contract was never returned and, therefore, a binding contract was not created. Unfortunately, the organization didn’t anticipate a problem and announced their meeting dates without a signed deal.”
Henry said he finds it difficult to believe the Callaway Gardens staffers did not understand the resort’s firearms policy. He also said the reason the nature preserve was chosen for the convention was to give spouses and children of GeorgiaCarry.Org members something to do during the convention.
Callaway’s amenities include a large lake and beach, butterfly and horticulture centers, bicycling and walking trails, a bird’s of prey show and a zipline course.
“That’s what we were trying to do is make it a weekend destination,” Henry said. “The members could come in and during that time go back and forth to whatever venue they wanted to go to.”
And, yes, most of them would likely have been carrying various weapons in plain sight, he said.
“Most of them aren’t concealed,” he said. “It’s up to you. We follow state law. State law says if you’ve got a firearms license, you can carry it basically any way you want.”
The convention itself, Henry said, would have been rather tame. GeorgiaCarry.Org holds seminars on various topics, including firearms safety, answers questions from members, and holds a mini-gun show at which vendors sell weapons.
Though it apologized Friday for the “inconvenience” the misunderstanding has caused GeorgiaCarry.Org members, Callaway Gardens said it is sticking by its firearms policy. It noted its 60-year history includes once operating a Gun Club that it plans to reopen in the “near future.” “But we feel guns are most appropriate where they can be safely discharged,” Crumbley’s email said. “We feel strongly that weapons are not appropriate at golf courses, tennis courts, meeting facilities, restaurants or in our beautiful gardens.”
Of course, Callaway Gardens’ loss will be some other community’s gain. With the publicity GeorgiaCarry.Org has received from the episode, the group has been “inundated” with offers from various entities inviting it to hold the convention in their area.
That includes Columbus. Peter Bowden, president and chief executive officer of the Columbus Convention & Vistors Bureau, confirmed his office has been contacted by the organization about possibly holding the convention locally. And he said there’s nothing to prevent it here.
“If they’re permitted, we’re not aware of any city ordinances that would prohibit that sort of thing,” he said. “But, yeah, we’re working full speed trying to make sure we have the availability both from the hotel perspective and the meeting space.”
Bowden estimated that 400 people visiting the city for two days would generate an economic impact of nearly $90,000. If they brought along enough spouses or other family members, that could push the impact over $200,000.
“That’s a good piece of business for Columbus,” he said of the convention. “They have their purpose. It sounds like a good group. The meeting space folks would like it, and the hotels would like it.”
Of course, the GeorgiaCarry.Org convention-goers would be bringing their firearms along with them, and that’s the way it should be, Henry said.
“The state says that no one other than the state can have any kind of gun-control legislation, other than tell you that you can’t shoot within the city limits,” he said. “But they can’t say that I can’t carry in downtown Newnan or wherever, or downtown Columbus. Columbus cannot have that in an ordinance. If they do, that’s illegal.”
GeorgiaCarry.Org, which was registered with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office in 2007, has its home of record in Fayetteville, Ga., just south of Atlanta. Its members pay annual dues of $15.
Henry said the group’s primary purpose is to keep members informed of what’s going on concerning gun-control measures. “We push to get legislation changed in Georgia to make it a more gun-friendly state,” he said.
The organization also has been known to file lawsuits from time to time, Henry said, including suing probate courts in Georgia for not issuing firearms licenses in a timely manner. It also has sued counties and cities for passing various ordinances prohibiting carrying a weapon.
In essence, he said, the group likes to act as a proactive gun-control watchdog.
“We notify them that they’re passing an ordinance that is against state law, and they probably shouldn’t do that,” Henry said. “And, most of the time, they listen to us and change them.”