Why We Can't Have Nice Things
Music Midtown is likely to be cancelled this year over Georgia gun laws, and a look at Atlanta's crime statistics from a national perspective.
(This story has been edited to include Music Midtown’s bullshit public statement Monday morning confirming the cancellation. They still haven’t returned my calls or email.)
Georgia’s gun laws may cost Atlanta at least one festival this year. Some of that has to do with recent “constitutional carry” legislation. But it’s been coming for a while now.
In 2014, then-Governor Nathan Deal signed HB60, what the media called the “guns everywhere” bill into law, broadly expanding the places a gun could be carried legally in Georgia. The law explicitly allows people to carry guns in public parks.
Later that year, Philip Evans, a gun-rights activist from Monroe County argued that Georgia’s new law permitted guns to be carried in Atlanta Botanical Gardens. The case wound its way through state courts, with a final ruling in 2019 by the Georgia Supreme Court. The gardens were off-limits because it’s technically not public property … but the court essentially affirmed that the law would apply to Piedmont Park.
Then the pandemic hit.
This is the first time Music Midtown has had to confront the impact of the 2014 law, Evans said.
“So, Live Nation is basically blaming — maybe — gonna blame Georgia Carry?” Evans said. “I don't know, but it's not Georgia Carry’s fault. It's state law. … If they want to complain, the law that pertains to this actually was passed in 2014. It was passed years and years ago. And it was the legislative intent to prevent them from banning guns on publicly owned property.”
The most recent changes to Georgia’s gun laws, so-called “constitutional carry,” add an additional dimension to the problem. Metal detectors were used in 2021, despite the law. Today there’s a meaningful legal question about whether a metal detector could even be employed because a concealed carry permit is no longer required to keep a weapon in your purse or your pocket.
I heard about this from someone who controls a potential venue. Live Nation appears to have been casting about for a new place to stage the festival, one that is private property and thus not subject to the state gun law. With about seven weeks to go before liftoff, finding a place to accommodate 50,000 fans is grasping at straws.
Now, think whatever you might like about the gun lobby and activists pressing their rights, like the guys who want to open carry rifles in the lobby of Hartsfield Jackson airport.
But Live Nation has had nearly three years to figure out what to do about the gun issue at Piedmont Park. Evans started emailing Music Midtown, Live Nation and the security company for the festival in May, reminding them of the law and describing their legal liabilities if they barred entry to someone carrying a gun legally, Evans said.
I note in passing that Evans has been sending the same warning letters to the folks who run the Shaky Beats and Shaky Knees festivals.
I don’t know why they thought this would just go away.
I don’t know that because, as is typical with Live Nation — and the music industry, generally — they don’t return phone calls and emails to journalists unless they’re trying to promote something. A statement is coming later today, Peter Conlon of Live Nation said in a phone interview with my friend John Ruch at the Saporta Report.
There’s a political question here, of course. More than one person suggested that Stacy Abrams somehow would have “allowed” the festival to go on. But the law would be enforced by private suits in Georgia courtrooms. The governor doesn’t have any control over this. The law would have to change, which only happens if gun reform legislators are elected. That’s a bigger stretch than finding a new venue.
“What a massive loss for our region and state,” said John Ernst, Brookhaven’s mayor. “It’s so much more than economic activity, this is a stalwart event that helps define our community and bring people together. It’s a shame that things we love and define our communities are being jeopardized because of legislation based on fear.”
Monday morning, Music Midtown confirmed the cancellation.
“Hey Midtown fans - due to circumstances beyond our control, Music Midtown will no longer be taking place this year. We were looking forward to reuniting in September and hope we can all get back to enjoying the festival together again soon.”
Refunds will begin processing in 24 hours, they said to no one in particular.
Many thanks to Rolling Stone, Axios and the AJC for citing my reporting in their pieces about the cancelled festival.
Meanwhile, we have former state senator Burt Jones, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia, telling people that Atlanta has set “a record” for homicides.
This is bullshit.
I mean, there’s a problem, but Atlanta’s homicides to date are in no way a record.
I hate this kind of hyperbole because it takes five seconds to read and two minutes to unpack. But if you’re here, you’re here for the unpacking.
The Council on Criminal Justice released its midyear report on crime and large cities yesterday. Nationally, the homicide rate among the 23 large cities tracked by the council fell by about two percent. Robberies have increased over the last year, because there are more people around to rob.
Atlanta bucked the national trend, with homicides up 16 percent.
People have reason to be concerned about Atlanta. The problem is how disconnected that concern can be from what drives crime and how to reduce it.
Notice that the chart above shows that New York City’s homicide rate is down 8 percent. Here’s how New York media have been covering crime.
Eric Adams won election as mayor on a tough-on-crime platform, and has been driving a narrative around crime that a compliant media has picked up on. Since Adams’ inauguration in New York in January, coverage of shootings in the city have increased threefold, even though the actual number of shootings fell.
Ask a New Yorker if crime is better or worse now, and they’ll say its worse, because the local media has spent three times as much effort talking about it.
The disconnect between data and the conversation means guys like Jones can say Atlanta set a record this year, when every year between 1985 and 1999 had more homicides over the same period. What’s the point of calling him on it; things are getting worse, right?
Well, sure. But why are they getting worse? It’s not just police pay and retention. It’s the long term effect of the pandemic on communities with concentrated poverty, being squeezed by rising housing costs. People in the bottom five percent of the income distribution are living in abject squalor in Atlanta, in ways that shock the conscience and incubate violence.
Violence in Atlanta has also risen because it's trivially easy to lay hands on a gun here, even if you're not supposed to be able to get one. Atlanta's gang culture has also decided that “smoking opps” is a higher priority than making money. A body means clout and clout means a better shot at a label contract.
Add to that a massive shortfall in mental health access — especially for poor people — that Georgia is uniquely deficient in.
We are seeing an uptick in youth violence that can be directly attributed to the breakdown in care created by the pandemic school closures. Add in guns and limited psych care access.
But yes: we also have a dysfunctional police problem. The suggestion that this, alone, is enough to turn the tide is the kind of political bullshit conservatives sell to win elections in Georgia. They always have. Running against “big-city liberals” downstate has been a formula on the right for 100 years.
When we lie to ourselves about what's happening and why, we make the problem impossible to solve.
The republican solution would be to give everyone a gun on their way in ( to even the odds) with concert goers promising to give it back as they exit.