His Weapons in Public Caused Panic, but the Law Is Murky

'New York Times' takes a look at ongoing case of Rico Marley, arrested in a Georgia grocery
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 3, 2023 2:26 PM CST
His Weapons in Public Caused Panic, but Laws Are Murky
This photo provided by the Atlanta Police Department shows weapons Rico Marley was armed with at the time of his arrest on Wednesday, March 24, 2021.   (Atlanta Police Department via AP)

Nearly two years after a heavily armed man sparked panic in an Atlanta supermarket, Georgia’s justice system is still trying to figure what laws the man broke, if any. The New York Times follows up on the case of Rico Marley, who was 22 when he was arrested in March 2021 after emerging from a Publix restroom wearing body armor, with four loaded handguns stashed in his clothes and a guitar case containing an AR-15 and a tactical shotgun. An Instacart driver called the cops after seeing the rifle in the restroom and hearing what he perceived as someone loading cartridges into a magazine.

At the time, police and the public were on edge given that the incident occurred two days after a gunman killed 10 people at a King Soopers grocery in Boulder, Colorado. Marley was arrested without incident and booked on 11 felonies, and he was held without bail after a judge ruled that he was a threat to the public. Then, 10 months later, the charges were dropped because—under Georgia gun laws, which have become increasingly lenient in recent years—there’s nothing felonious about carrying loaded guns and wearing body armor in public. As one gun-rights activist told the Times, "All the guy did was be in the store with guns. … I go into Kroger with a gun, and I don’t expect to be arrested for reckless conduct when I do that."

Marley has since been rebooked on a string of misdemeanors and remains in custody, but cases like his are becoming more common around the country, including in Texas where prosecutors were frustrated because they could only charge Guido Herrera with disorderly conduct after he paraded a few yards from a youth dance competition carrying an AR-15 and wearing a spiked leather mask. More uncertainty lies ahead following the Supreme Court’s June decision to strike down New York state gun restrictions, which "expanded Americans’ right to arm themselves in public while limiting states’ ability to set their own regulations," as the Times puts it. (More gun laws stories.)

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