April 2, 2013

Ga. city council votes to require gun ownership

Kate Brumback / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Located in the Appalachian foothills, Nelson is a tiny, hilly town with narrow, twisting roads. It's a place where most people know one another and leave their doors unlocked.

It used to be a major source of marble, with the local marble company employing many in town. But that industry is mostly gone now, Mayor Mike Haviland said. There are no retail stores in town anymore, and just about everyone leaves town for work now, making it a bedroom community for Atlanta, he said.

The mayor said he never dreamed his small city would be the focus of national and international media attention, but he understands it.

"It bumps up against the national issues on guns," he said.

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.

Leroy Blackwell, 82, has lived in Nelson for about 50 years and owns a hunting rifle he keeps in a closet. He said before the council's decision that he would support the ordinance even if it didn't have exemptions, but he would have preferred it to be voluntary.

"Really, I think it would be more fair to put it to a vote" so everybody could have a say, he said.

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