Georgia City Demands That Residents Buy Guns

     GAINESVILLE, Ga. (CN) – The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence sued the City of Nelson, Ga. for enacting a law requiring every “head of household” to own a gun and ammunition or be fined $1,000.
     The Brady Center sued Nelson, its Mayor Pro Tempore Jonathan Bishop, and the other four members of the City Council, in Federal Court.
     Nelson, pop. 1,314, is part of metropolitan Atlanta, in Pickens and Cherokee counties.
     The City Council adopted its gun law in April, requiring every head of household in town to buy and maintain a firearm and ammunition.
     The law exempts physically or mentally disabled people, felons, paupers, and residents who “conscientiously oppose maintaining firearms as a result of beliefs or religious doctrine,” but does not define the term “head of household,” the complaint states.
     “Although the United States Supreme Court’s recent decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), and MacDonald v. Chicago, 651 U.S. 3025 (2010), guarantee law-abiding, responsible citizens the right to possess a firearm in the home for self-defense, the Second Amendment does not require – or permit the government to require – individuals to possess firearms,” the complaint states. “Rather, the Second Amendment recognizes that individuals can determine how best to defend their homes and families, including by choosing not to bring a firearm into the home. This lawsuit is brought to protect that fundamental liberty, and to prevent its unconstitutional infringement.”
     The Brady Center, formerly known as the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, says it has more than 1,300 members in Georgia, including 20 in the Nelson area.
     It claims that the law forced people such as its member Harold Kellett, a Nelson resident, to buy guns against their will, though they did not need them, or did not know how to use them.
     After the ordinance took effect on April 11, Kellett, who did not qualify for an exemption, spent almost $700 on a Remington handgun and ammunition, according to the complaint.
     Kellett previously owned a nonoperational antique handgun more than 75 years old, and no ammunition, the Brady Center claims. Kellett is not named as a party to the complaint.
     “The firearm ordinance inflicted a concrete economic harm on Mr. Kellett by forcing him to purchase a firearm and ammunition,” the complaint states.
     “Moreover, at least one study has established a direct correlation between gun ownership in a locality and the number of gun deaths in that locality. Upon information and belief, increased gun deaths in a locality may also have a negative effect on property values in that locality.
     “Mr. Kellett has suffered further economic harm because the firearm ordinance makes Nelson a less-desirable location, thereby causing property values, including the Kelletts’, to decrease.
     “Aside from the economic harm, the city, through its firearm ordinance, has stripped Mr. Kellett of his right to determine how best to protect his home and compelled him to take action and communicate with the public in a manner he would not otherwise have done.”
     The Brady Center claims the law violates its members’ constitutional rights, including the Second Amendment to the U.S. constitution, which guarantees the right to own guns, but does not force citizens to do so.
     “Indeed, a majority of Americans choose to exercise their Second Amendment rights in this fashion: protecting their families and children form the violence of accidental firearm injuries, domestic violence, and suicide,” the complaint states. “The firearm ordinance, by stripping at least one of plaintiff’s members of this fundamental right to decide how best to protect the home, violates the Second Amendment.”
     The Brady Center says the ordinance also violates residents’ right to privacy and freedom of speech, and discriminates against non-heads of households.
     “Freedom of speech includes freedom to act or not to act,” the complaint states. “By forcing the plaintiff’s membership to purchase firearms, the ordinance forces individuals to adopt the city’s favored position on a contentious, debated issue (gun ownership), and to subsidize the firearms industry even though the membership may have no economic interest or desire to do so.
     “Moreover, by forcing individuals who would not otherwise do so to purchase firearms, the ordinance effectively forces them to subsidize one side in a debated political question to the direct detriment of the plaintiff.” (Parentheses in complaint; citation to case omitted).
     Nelson City Manager Brandy Edwards told Courthouse News: “The city has not been served with the lawsuit yet, so we have no comment at this time.”
     Jonathan Bishop became mayor pro tempore after former Mayor Mike Haviland resigned on May 14, according to the Pickens County website.
     Haviland wrote in his resignation letter: “Over the last four years the Nelson City Council has acted to remove or transfer away the powers of the mayor as defined in the city’s Strong Mayor form of government charter provisions.
     “The cumulative effect of the these actions is to create a de facto change in the form of government from a Strong Mayor form of government to a City Manager, Strong City Council/Weak Mayor form of government. A second unfortunate effect in marginalizing the powers of the mayor has been to create a contentious working relationship between the city council and the mayor, a situation which is not serving Nelson government or its citizens well.”
     The Brady Center seeks an injunction and wants the ordinance annulled.
     It is represented by Peter Canfield with Dow Lohnes of Atlanta.
     A state lawmaker in Oregon proposed a similar law nearly 30 years ago, and acknowledged he did it at the request of a friend who owned a gun shop. That proposal went nowhere.

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