Georgia Town's New Law Says You Must Have a Gun

Nelson, Ga., passes a measure that requires every household to have a gun.

ByABC News
April 2, 2013, 1:12 PM

April 2, 2013— -- A small town in north Georgia unanimously passed an ordinance that requires every household to own a gun and ammunition.

But the new law, which goes into effect in 10 days, seems to be more in reaction to talk of gun control rather than to crime.

"People ask me if we're like Mayberry," said Heath Mitchell, who has been the police chief of Nelson, Ga., for a little over three years and is currently the town's only police officer. "I tell them we're quieter than Mayberry. They've got a lot more going on they we do."

Nevertheless, the Nelson City Council approved the Family Protection Ordinance last month by a vote of 5-0. The new law requires every head of household "to maintain a firearm, together with ammunition."

Councilman Jackie Jarrett said the measure, which will was to deter criminal activity and to make a statement to show the town's support of the Second Amendment, which grants U.S. citizens the right to bear arms.

"It's just saying if you plan on doing us harm, then be warned, we'll be armed," Jarrett said. "By us saying you all gotta have [a gun], any criminal with half a brain will think 'chances are, these people are going to have a weapn, let's bypass this house.'"

Failure to own a gun, however, will not be prosecuted. Residents of the town, which covers about 2.5 square miles and is about 50 miles north of Atlanta, can opt out of the ordinance if they have "personal objections" to gun ownership, according to the council's meeting records.

The measure also exempts convicted felons, those who can't afford to own a gun, and those who suffer from certain physical or mental disabilities.

Nelson is the kind of town where everybody knows everybody, which isn't hard to do when the population is only about 1,300 people.

Mitchell spoke in favor of the ordinance at the City Council meeting. He told ABC News he thought the measure was a "good thing" and hopes it will make the town safer.

When asked how much crime Nelson has, Mitchell said, "very minimal." "I couldn't even give you a percentage," he said. And the troublemakers are almost always "out-of-towners."

"It's a Norman Rockwell painting. That's what it is to me. It's rare that you find a town like this these days," Mitchell said.

The town is budgeted for several more officers, Mitchell said, and they have had a few in the past, "but there wasn't enough for them to do."

Mitchell said the council approached him with the proposal a few months ago and at first he said he had concerns that the measure would cause a rise in accidental shootings in homes. So he asked for advice from a friend, Police Chief William Westenberger of Kennesaw, Ga., a town with a population about 20 times larger than Nelson and that had passed the same ordinance in 1982.

Mitchell said Westenberger told him that there had been no reports of accidental shootings in homes since the measure was passed in Kennesaw, and after their conversation he "felt a lot more comfortable about it."

Other small towns are considering similar laws, like Byron, Maine, a town with a population of about 145. The City Council in Spring City, Utah, which population is just shy of 1,000 people, considered a similar mandatory gun ownership resolution, but the council voted to make it a recommendation rather than a requirement.

Mitchell said the Nelson proposal was met with wide support. He can "count on one hand" the number of people who opposed the ordinance, he said, and those that did complained that the proposal was the government telling them what to do. But the chief wasn't fazed.

"Look, 95 percent of the people already have a gun in their home," he said. "Even the guy who is complaining about it, even he has a gun."