Georgia town’s mandatory gun ownership law is just ‘symbolic’


Nelson City Council member Duane Cronic seconds the motion for a vote on the "Family Protection Ordinance," which mandates gun ownership for all heads-of-household. (Johnny Clark/Associated Press)

In another illustration of just how divisive gun control rhetoric has become, a small town in northern Georgia passed a measure yesterday requiring every household to have a gun and ammunition — despite the fact that the town has virtually no crime and no plans to enforce the law.

The five council members of Nelson, Ga., population 913, voted unanimously on the ordinance, WXIA reports. Councilman Jackie Jarrett told the Associated Press that most people in town already own guns and the ordinance was intended mostly as a “statement” on gun rights.

As far as statements go, it could be stronger. The ordinance exempts heads of households who have disabilities or have been convicted of a felony, as well as people who oppose gun ownership or cannot afford a gun. According to the text of the measure, it will provide for the “emergency management of the city” and “protect the safety, security and general welfare of the city.”

But as AP reports, crime in Nelson is low — so low that the town only employs one police officer. Nelson’s last homicide was more than five years ago. And Councilman Duane Cronic, who sponsored the measure, said he does not expect the bill to be enforced — which doesn’t surprise observers. A March 29 column in Georgia’s Columbus Ledger-Enquirer questioned how police could even hope to enforce the ordinance.

“Workplaces could require random testing of skin on hands for gunpowder residue,” the column riffs. “Police could knock on a few doors and demand that those within present arms. Or maybe officers will just show up with warrants and search the homes themselves, being extra vigilant that nobody ‘plants’ a friend's or neighbor's borrowed gun just to pass inspection.”

Despite the skepticism surrounding it, Nelson’s “Family Protection Ordinance” is actually the latest in a series of toothless, symbolic measures proposed around the country. Spring City, Utah, approved a resolution in February that recommended residents keep firearms and attend new, city-sponsored gun safety classes. In Byron, Maine, a town official proposed a measure that would require guns in all household, but voters — all 50 of them — shot it down.

Nelson, like Spring City and Byron, is a small town. According to the Census Bureau’s most recent estimates, fewer than one in four adults in Nelson have a college degree. Nearly 12 percent are veterans.

The city’s ordinance is modeled on a similar law that has been on the books in nearby Kennesaw, Ga., for 30 years. Kennesaw police have made no attempt to enforce that law, according to AP.

Some legal experts argue that doing so would be illegal. In a March interview with U.S. News and World Report, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley called mandatory gun ownership laws “flagrantly unconstitutional and certifiably moronic.”

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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