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Georgia town OK’s measure to require gun ownership

Won’t be enforced but is meant to send a message

NELSON, Ga. — Backers of a newly adopted ordinance requiring gun ownership in a small north Georgia town acknowledge that they were largely seeking to make a point about gun rights.

The ordinance in the city of Nelson — population 1,300 — was approved Monday night and goes into effect in 10 days. However, it contains no penalties and exempts anyone who objects, convicted felons, and those with certain mental and physical disabilities.

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City Councilor Duane Cronic, who sponsored the measure, said he knows the ordinance won’t be enforced but he still believes it will make the town safer.

‘‘I likened it to a security sign that people put up in their front yards. Some people have security systems, some people don’t, but they put those signs up,’’ he said. ‘‘I really felt like this ordinance was a security sign for our city.’’

Another purpose, according to the City Council’s agenda, is ‘‘opposition of any future attempt by the federal government to confiscate personal firearms.’’

Council members in Nelson, a small city located 50 miles north of Atlanta, voted unanimously to approve the Family Protection Ordinance. The measure requires every head of household to own a gun and ammunition 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.’’

Nelson resident Lamar Kellett was one of five people who spoke during a public comment period Monday night and one of two who opposed the ordinance. Among his many objections, he said it dilutes the city’s laws to pass measures that aren’t intended to be enforced.

‘‘Does this mean now 55 miles an hour speed limit means 65, 80, whatever you choose? There’s not a whole lot of difference. A law’s a law,’’ he said.

Kellett also said the ordinance will have no effect, that it won’t encourage people like him who don’t want a gun to go out and buy one.

The proposal illustrates how the response to the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., varies widely in different parts of the country.

While lawmakers in generally more liberal states with large urban centers like New York and California have moved to tighten gun control laws, more conservative, rural areas in the American heartland have been going in the opposite direction.

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.

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

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.

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