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Tuesday
Apr022013

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

Andy Reynolds/Thinkstock(NELSON, Ga.) -- A small town in north Georgia has unanimously passed an ordinance that requires every household to own a gun and ammunition.

The new law is more in reaction to talk of gun control 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 Monday night by a vote of 5-0. The new law requires every head of household "to maintain a firearm, together with ammunition."

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 1,400 people.

Mitchell spoke in favor of the ordinance at the City Council meeting, saying it was a way to show the town's support for the Second Amendment, which gives U.S. citizens the right to bear arms. Mitchell told ABC News he thought the measure was a "good thing" and hopes it will make the town safer.

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."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio