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Gun Control Group Sues Town That Requires Citizens to Own Firearms

By Charlie Connell c.connell@hngn.com | Jul 12, 2013 01:38 PM EDT

Guns
Gun owners are 2 to 3 times more likely to die from suicide or murder-related incidents, a new study showed. (Photo : Reuters)

An ordinance passed by a small town in Georgia requiring residents to own guns has sparked a battle between the town and a national gun control group about the constitutionality of the law and gun rights in general, according to the Associated Press.

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Nelson, Ga., is a town of a little over 1,000 people located about an hour north of Atlanta. The Nelson City Council passed a law called the Family Protection Ordinance in April that required every head of household to own a gun and ammunition unless they met one of a few conditions such as being a convicted felon, suffering from a disability or conscientiously objecting to gun ownership because of religious beliefs, reports the Associated Press.

In the law it states that the reason for gun ownership is 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." When the law was passed the police chief, who happens to be the only police officer, said that he did not plan on enforcing the law, it was really just meant as a warning to potential burglars, according to the Associated Press.

Despite the intention the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence swiftly filed suit against the town claiming the law to be unconstitutional.

"We definitely think this law is misguided and unconstitutional in Nelson and anywhere else where it's passed," Jonathan Lowy, the lawyer representing the gun control advocacy group, told the Associated Press. "But it's also important to send a message to other jurisdictions around the country that might be inclined to pass similar misguided, unconstitutional laws."

City Manager Brandy Edwards confirmed what the police chief had said when the law was passed by saying that no one had been charged for not owning a firearm.

"I don't think there was ever any intention of the city of Nelson to enforce the ordinance," David Archer, a lawyer for the city who is handling the lawsuit, said. "I think it was a political statement that they made."

Lamar Kellett, a resident of Nelson and also a member of the Brady Center, is mentioned in the lawsuit because he felt an obligation to purchase a handgun after the law was passed. Kellett did not meet any of the reasons for not owning a gun, he doesn't like guns but doesn't consider himself to be a conscientious objector to gun ownership, and was afraid that the town would eventually enforce the law, reports the Associated Press.

An identical law has been on the books in the town of Kennesaw since 1982, at no point has the law been enforced. Kennesaw is not being sued by the Brady Center currently, although Lowy said that it could become a possibility in the future.

Michael Perry, a constitutional law expert who teaches law at Emory University, told the Associated Press that he thinks that the Brady Center has the law on their side. Perry believes the law is a violation of the First Amendment.

"For the same reason you can't tell the citizens they've got to own and display the American flag, you can't tell American citizens they have to own guns and keep them on the premises," Perry said.

Residents of Nelson seem to have no problem with the law. Lawrence Cooper told the Associated Press that he not only supports the law but he believes it should be adopted by many more places.

"I am still firmly in favor of the law," Cooper said. "I believe that if everyone had guns crime would disappear." 

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