Maine, Georgia, Utah Towns Consider Mandatory Gun Ownership

Law professor calls toothless mandates 'flagrantly unconstitutional.'

A young woman looks at a shotgun to purchase for home protection in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan. 15, 2013.
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In the political debate over gun control, supporters of the Second Amendment right to bear arms typically describe their position as being about freedom and personal protection.

An individual's freedom to decide whether or not to buy a gun, however, may soon be taken from residents of small towns in Maine, Georgia, and Utah.

In Nelson, Ga., city officials are mulling a proposal to mandate that its citizens take up arms for personal protection. Nelson, with a population of around 1,000 people, has just one police officer, WSB-TV reports, who patrols for eight hours a day.

"When he's not here we rely on county sheriffs—however it takes a while for them to get here," Nelson City Councilman Duane Cronic explained to the WSB.

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"I think every city should do it. I think it should go countywide too," a local resident told the TV station. Another, however, accused the proposal of being "big government at its worst. Government mandating what a free individual can and will have in his home."

A vote on the Nelson measure is scheduled for April 1.

In nearby Kennesaw, Ga., a law has been on the books since 1982 mandating gun ownership. WUSA9 reported in February that the 30,000-person town's leaders say the law prompted a sharp drop in crime, even though there's no enforcement of the mandate.

Hundreds of miles away, a 145-person Maine town called Byron is considering a similar proposal.

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The Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal reports that all three selectmen on the town's governing body support a proposal to making owning a gun required. The resolution would grant town residents the right to vote on the measure, which asks, "Shall the town of Byron vote to require all households to have firearms and ammunitions to protect the citizens?"

Byron's Head Selectman Anne Simmons-Edmunds told the Sun Journal, "It's time to tell the government, 'Enough's enough. Quit micromanaging us.'"

Earlier this week the six-member town council of Sabattus, Maine, rejected a citizen proposal requiring firearm ownership.

"I'm a strong believer in the Second Amendment," Sabattus police Chief Anthony Ward, an opponent of the proposal, told the Sun Journal. "People also have a right not to bear arms."

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Spring City, Utah, is also mulling a measure that would turn the right to bear arms into a duty. In the 1,000-person town there's a debate brewing between a resolution encouraging gun ownership and an ordinance writing the encouragement into law.

Salt Lake City TV station FOX 13 reports that Spring City passed the resolution but has tabled a vote on the ordinance, which will be revisited in a few weeks.

"Any mandatory gun ownership law is flagrantly unconstitutional and certifiably moronic," George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told U.S. News. "[I]n fighting for gun rights, they appear to have forgotten what Brandeis called 'the right to be left alone.' "

"Forcing citizens to buy guns is manifestly different from requiring insurance or safety seats," said Turley, as guns "constitute a key free speech issue with many people philosophically opposed to gun ownership."

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