Towns Consider Mandatory Gun Ownership in Homes

Should every homeowner in America be required to own a firearm? A few towns across the country have considered measures to determine just that.

On Monday night, voters in the small town of Byron, Maine, home to about 150 people, struck down a proposal that would require all homeowners to own a gun. The proposed article said, "Shall the town require all households to have firearms and ammunition to protect its citizens?"

Over 50 voters gathered at the town's annual meeting and voted nearly unanimously against the proposal. Anne Simmons-Edmunds, head selectman for Byron, said the measure failed because it was billed as a requirement, not a suggestion or recommendation.

"I think really people got hung up on the word 'required' and there are some people in town that even though they have guns, they didn't want it mandated to them that they had to be ready to protect its citizens," Simmons-Edmunds told ABC News. "For me, it was to make a statement. For me, I'm very much in favor of our Second Amendment rights and they've worked for so long. I really don't want to see them changed."

In Nelson, Ga., a town about 50 miles north of Atlanta, the town council gave initial approval last week to a similar ordinance, which includes exceptions for convicted felons, the physically disabled, mentally ill, conscientious objectors, and people who the council describes as "paupers." Councilwoman Edith Portillo said she expects it to become law at the council's meeting next April, though it will likely not be enforced because it allows people to refuse to have guns, based on their beliefs or religion.

"We thought that for the city of Nelson this would be a good thing. It's a preventative measure so our citizens could feel safe if, God forbid, anything should happen and they had to use their firearms that they would be protected by law in the city of Nelson," Portillo told ABC News. "We have been called big government, which is laughable… I am totally against big government infringing in our lives, this is not the case."

"Whoever wants a gun can have one in their homes, and if they don't, God bless," she added.

While these measures have sprung up in a few towns since Congress has started considering new gun proposals in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, one town enacted such a rule over 30 years ago.

In 1982, the town of Kennesaw, Ga., passed an ordinance requiring "every head of household to maintain a firearm together with ammunition." Kennesaw acted in response to a law passed in Morton Grove, Ill., which banned guns in its city limits.

While the law still exists today, the town of Kennesaw says on its website that the law "has never been enforced and many current residents are probably unaware of it."

Laurence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, said that such measures would be of "doubtful constitutionality."

"Although Congress in the 1790s required all able-bodied men to purchase and keep a firearm for militia purposes, state or local laws forcing every homeowner to own a gun would be of doubtful constitutionality today," Tribe told ABC News.

"The reason, ironically, is the Supreme Court's Second Amendment holding in Heller and McDonald [two Supreme Court cases], grounding the right to keep and bear arms in each individual's right to self-defense as a core facet of personal liberty," he said. "Especially given the ample data that guns in the home are most often turned against the homeowner herself, the right to self-defense probably includes a right to rid one's home of firearms if that is one's choice - just as the right to speak one's mind includes a right not to express a view one does not hold."

A Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday found that 48 percent of gun owners cite protection as their primary concern for obtaining a firearm, but nearly six in ten of those who did not own guns in their homes said they would be uncomfortable with the presence of a firearm in their household

42 percent of adults reported that they or someone in their home owns a gun, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday.

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