Nelson gun ownership requirement challenged

A Washington-based gun control advocacy organization filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the tiny town of Nelson, saying the community’s new ordinance mandating gun ownership has violated the rights of its residents.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said one of its members, Harold Lamar Kellett, was required to buy a gun or face a fine of $1,000 because he, as head of his household, did not have a firearm. Kellett bought a Remington model 1911 .45 caliber handgun for $646.59 plus ammunition for $32.09, a purchase he would not have made otherwise, the suit said. Until then he had only owned a non-function antique gun.

In addition to having to buy a gun, the national publicity on the gun-ownership mandate had made Nelson “a less-desirable location, thereby causing property values, including the Kelletts’, to decrease,” according to the court document.

The lawsuit said Kellett feared an increase in violent crime because of the prevalence of guns.

The legal action was taken in response to an April 1 Nelson City Council adoption of an ordinance requiring every head of household to have a gun. The exceptions are Nelson citizens with mental or physical disabilities that prevent gun ownership, felons, paupers and anyone opposed to guns on religious grounds.

The ordinance took effect on April 1 and on May 6 the council voted to post signs announcing the gun ownership ordinance at streets leading into the city that straddles Cherokee and Pickens Counties. The Nelson ordinance resembles one Kennesaw adopted in 1982 that earned the Cobb County community national attention. Two federal lawsuits challenging Kennesaw’s ordinance were dismissed.

City officials in Nelson, which was named after John Nelson, early landowner, farmer, and rifle maker, could not be reached for comment Thursday. But previously, officials in the a town of 1,300 have said the ordinance could be the start of a movement that could spread statewide.

The council members said when they adopted the ordinance that it was no more than a “paper” ordinance, but they wanted to send an anti-gun control message to Washington.

At the same time, Nelson police Chief B. Heath Mitchell said during a council meeting, the ordinance could help the town’s image.

“This ordinance being passed is nothing but good. You can only go up with it, ” Mitchell said.

Kellett spoke against the ordinance at council meetings but he could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

The suit named the city and each of the five members of the council as defendants. In addition to Kellett, the Brady Center said it had 1,300 members in Georgia, including 400 in metro Atlanta and 20 in the Nelson area.

The suit said the ordinance violated Kellett’s First Amendment right to free speech, the Second Amendment freedom in regards to ownership and the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection. It also said the ordinance violated Kellett’s right to privacy.

“The ordinance requires citizens to, in effect, salute the flag of gun ownership or explain why not,” said Atlanta lawyer Peter Canfield, who filed the suit for the Brady Center.

The suit asks the court to nullify the ordinance and to repay the Brady group the legal expenses it incurred in bringing the complaint.

“Government does not have the authority to compel Americans to buy guns or bring them into their homes,” said Jonathan Lowy, the Brady Center’s legal action project director.

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