NELSON, Georgia (AP) — Backers of a newly adopted ordinance requiring gun ownership in a small U.S. town acknowledge they were largely seeking to make a point about the right to bear arms in the wake of a school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that left 26 children and educators dead.
While lawmakers in generally more liberal states with large urban centers like New York and California have moved to tighten gun control laws in the wake of the massacre, more conservative, rural areas in the American heartland have been going in the opposite direction, arguing that guns keep people safer.
The ordinance in the city of Nelson, Georgia — population 1,300 — was approved Monday night and goes into effect in 10 days. However, it contains no penalties and exempts anyone who objects, convicted felons and those with certain mental and physical disabilities.
Fears of a government crackdown on gun sales have prompted a few communities around the United States to "require" or recommend their residents arm themselves, reflecting a growing divide in the wake of the Newtown massacre.
Council members in Nelson, a small city located 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Atlanta, voted unanimously to approve the Family Protection Ordinance. The measure requires every head of household to own a gun and ammunition to "provide for the emergency management of the city" and to "provide for and protect the safety, security and general welfare of the city and its inhabitants."
City Councilman Duane Cronic, who sponsored the measure, said he knows the ordinance won't be enforced but he still believes it will make the town safer.
"I likened it to a security sign that people put up in their front yards. Some people have security systems, some people don't, but they put those signs up," he said. "I really felt like this ordinance was a security sign for our city."
Nelson resident Lamar Kellett — one of two people who opposed the ordinance during a public comment period Monday — said it dilutes the city's laws to pass measures that aren't intended to be enforced.
Kellett also said the ordinance will have no effect, that it won't encourage people like him who don't want a gun to go out and buy one.
Police Chief Heath Mitchell noted that the city doesn't have police officers who work 24 hours a day and is far from the two sheriff's offices that might send deputies in case of trouble, so response times to emergency calls can be long. Having a gun would help residents take their protection into their own hands, he said.
But the chief — the town's sole police officer — acknowledged the crime rate is very low. He mostly sees minor property thefts and a burglary every few months. The most recent homicide was more than five years ago, he said.
The ordinance is modeled after a similar one adopted in 1982 by Kennesaw, an Atlanta suburb. City officials there worried at the time that growth in Atlanta might bring crime to the community, which now has about 30,000 residents. Kennesaw police have acknowledged that their ordinance is difficult to enforce, and they haven't made any attempt to do so.