May 24, 2024

ATLANTA — When Donald Trump arrived in Manhattan early this month to face criminal charges, Fulton County sheriffs’ deputies were watching. Knowing Atlanta could be Trump’s next stop, Sheriff Patrick Labat dispatched a team to New York to study the intense security surrounding the former president’s unprecedented trip to the courthouse.

Now they need to put that intelligence into action. In letters this week to top local law enforcement officials, Fulton District Attorney, Fani Willis said she will announce this summer whether Trump and his allies will be indicted for allegedly meddling in Georgia’s 2020 election.

The message: Get ready.

Criminal charges against Trump could mean a security challenge the likes of which Atlanta hasn’t seen since the Super Bowl in 2019. Officials said they have been tested in recent years by heated protests, blockbuster events and high-profile court activity.

And while Fulton County officials learned from their counterparts in Manhattan the situation in metro Atlanta is different.

Here there are fewer police – New York City has roughly 18 times as many officers as the city of Atlanta. In Fulton County there are also likely to be multiple defendants. And Georgia has looser gun laws, raising the prospect of pistol-packing protesters outside the courthouse.

A 2014 Georgia law limits local governments’ ability to restrict guns in public spaces, said Anthony Kreis, an assistant professor of law at Georgia State University who specializes in civil liberties and constitutional law. State law prohibits carrying guns into courthouses, but not surrounding areas.

“My best guess is that, as a consequence of Georgia’s loose gun regulations, law enforcement may try to close down pedestrian access altogether around a sweeping perimeter of the Fulton County courthouse except for those members of the public seeking to get into the courthouse,” he said.

Georgia relaxed gun laws even further in 2022 to allow “lawful” gun owners to carry a concealed weapon without obtaining a permit.

Former Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields said Georgia’s open-carry laws are old enough that police are already used to dealing with them, including at protests; but newer officers should get refresher training on the precise rules to avoid later legal trouble.

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