In this Georgia town, it's illegal not to own a gun

A new ordinance in Kennesaw, Ga., could make for the loudest noise heard from that northwest Georgia town since the roar of cannon during Civil War battles at nearby Kennesaw Mountain.

The controversial law requires the head of each household to maintain a firearm and ammunition. The only exceptions are handicapped persons, felons, or objectors for reason of ''religious doctrines or beliefs.'' The law, passed by a unanimous vote of the City Council, takes effect March 25.

Kennesaw (population about 5,000) is one of the fastest-growing cities in the state. ''With growth comes crime,'' says Police Chief Robert Ruble. ''We're trying to give the criminals a message: Stay out of Kennesaw,'' he says.

But police chief Ruble admits he has ''no idea'' how to enforce the ordinance , which is punishable by a fine of up to $50.

''It's a kind of protest,'' explains City Council member Jerry Wortham. ''I'm tired of hearing I can't do this and can't do that,'' he says. ''I have no idea whether it's constitutional.''

The vote for the ordinance was a reaction to a vote last year by Morton Grove , Ill., to ban firearms with few exceptions, according to another council member. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is appealing a lower court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the Morton Grove law.

NRA spokesman John Adkins says the rifle association ''applauds'' the action of the Kennesaw City Council. He says the NRA ''supports the freedom of choice'' to bear firearms that he says has been denied in Morton Grove. When asked if the Kennesaw ordinance also restricts freedom--the freedom to choose not to own a firearm--Adkins said: ''That's a point, too.''

Paul Lavrakas, a spokesman for the National Coalition to Ban Handguns, discounts the significance of the ordinance. ''It sounds like the silly season has hit early in Georgia,'' he says. Sam Fields, a law school student working for the coalition, calls the ordinance a ''joke.'' He argues that it probably violates the 1st, 5th, 9th, and 14th Amendments. It is unconstitutional, he says , to require someone to spend money to buy something (a firearm) without ''compelling reasons.''

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