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A Gun in Every Home? Nelson, Georgia Residents Debate New Law Mandating Forced Ownership of Firearms

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City Council members in Nelson, Georgia, voted unanimously to require heads of households to own guns and ammunition on Monday. The so-called Family Protection Ordinance requires a gun in every home in order to “provide for the emergency management of the city” and “protect the safety, security and general welfare of the city and its inhabitants.” The ordinance has sparked national media attention — and a local debate. We speak with Nelson residents on both sides of the issue: Jackie Jarrett, a member of the Nelson City Council who voted in favor of the gun requirement, and Lamar Kellett, former chair of the Nelson Planning Commission, who opposes it. “[Would you] rather rob somebody in New York, where they got strict gun laws or you can’t own one — if you do, just got to have three shells for it? Or do you want to come to Nelson and try to rob somebody, because, you know, they’ve got a weapon on the other side of that door?” Jarrett asks. But Kellett disagrees. “The Second Amendment gives you the right to bear arms. And I feel like an individual certainly has the right to not bear arms,” he says. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As Connecticut and other states move to restrict guns after the Newtown shooting more than three months ago, a city in Georgia has moved in the opposite direction. On Monday night, City Council members in Nelson, Georgia, voted unanimously to require heads of households to own guns and ammunition.

The so-called Family Protection Ordinance requires a gun in every home in order to, quote, “provide for the emergency management of the city” and “protect the safety, security and general welfare of the city and its inhabitants.” People with certain disabilities are exempted from the requirement, as are, quote, “those heads of households who are paupers or who conscientiously oppose maintaining firearms as a result of beliefs or religious doctrine, or persons convicted of a felony,” unquote.

Officials admit they likely won’t enforce the ordinance, which is modeled on a similar provision passed in nearby Kennesaw, Georgia, in 1982. Similar proposals in other states have recently been softened or rejected.

The gun requirement has sparked national media attention. It’s also sparked a local debate in Nelson, a city of roughly 1,300 people, which has only one police officer.

We’re joined now from a studio in Atlanta, Georgia, by Nelson residents on both sides of the debate. Jackie Jarrett is with us, a member of the Nelson City Council who voted along with other—the other four members in favor of requiring all heads of households to own guns. And Lamar Kellett is with us, former chair of the Nelson Planning Commission. He opposes the gun requirement.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Jackie Jarrett. Explain why you supported this legislation that has passed. The City Council now requires all households to have a gun.

JACKIE JARRETT: Well, when I was approached by—Duane Cronic asked me my thoughts on it. And I told him to let me take a look at the ordinance that was drawed up, and it was drawed up from the Kennesaw ordinance. And I really didn’t see no—no way it would violate anybody’s rights, because we were giving options to our people. And I only see good coming out of it, because we’ve got widow women there, and whatever, that don’t want a gun, but yet they need some kind of protection. And this is sort of like hanging a sign up on the door, you know, saying they’re protected. They don’t have to tell nobody they ain’t got a gun or they don’t want a gun. Let the criminal wonder what’s on the other side of the door, you know. And so, I just seen it as a positive for the citizens in our town to pass this bill and to support it, especially with so many people worrying about our Amendment Two rights being took away from us. And I just seen it as a positive in any direction. I mean, if you’re going to—you know, if you is going to rob somebody, had you’d rather rob somebody in New York, where they got strict gun laws or you can’t own one—if you do, just got to have three shells for it, you know? Or do you want to come to Nelson and try to rob somebody, because, you know, they’ve got a weapon on the other side of that door?

AMY GOODMAN: Lamar Kellett, why are you opposed to this law that has just passed in your town of—in your city of Nelson?

LAMAR KELLETT: Well, Nelson has had no violent crime, to my research that I did, for the past 10 years. So, as you see, we are a very low-crime area. And we also are living in an area that has a culture of gun ownership anyway. Most of the people who want to own a gun have a gun. However, this ordinance is a mandate that you will own a gun, whether you want one or not. And I’ve read over the disclaimers there, and I do not qualify for any one of those. So, under the law, I am required to have a gun. So, that is the kind of mandate that I oppose. That goes way beyond the Second Amendment, which the Second Amendment gives you the right to bear arms. And I feel like an individual certainly has the right to not bear arms.


LAMAR KELLETT: And—yes, go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask Councilman Jackie Jarrett, are you saying that Lamar Kellett has to get a gun?

JACKIE JARRETT: No, ma’am. No way. If Lamar Kellett wants to put a sign up in his yard saying, “I am unarmed. I don’t believe in owning a gun,” he can do that, and we will not send nobody out for him.

And let me correct something that Lamar has just stated here. He was saying that he didn’t qualify. True, Monday night, when we voted for this, he was saying that he was going have to go out and buy a gun. But that’s not what he told to a reporter on the news and everything. Let me see if I can find where it’s at right here. He had already said that he owned a gun and everything then. Now he’s saying he don’t. So which—which one is the truth right here now? I’ve even got the—somewhere here, I’ve got where you—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, as you’re looking for that, let me ask Lamar Kellett about the forces behind this proposal. What are the influences here that led to the Nelson ordinance?

LAMAR KELLETT: Well, from my observations and the timing of when this issue came to the forefront, we had a tea party activist in the neighborhood that I live in, which is within the city of Nelson, and also there are two tea party members that are on the council that belong to the tea party group out of Canton, Georgia. And one of their officials at the second reading came up and gave accolades to both the two councilpersons and also the individual, the tea party activist, for their great work in seeing that this ordinance was passed. So it’s obvious to me—I don’t know what the national stand is for the tea party, but for this local unit, they had a—they had an agenda from the very beginning that this would pass. They had very little in the way of public input. It was all initiated. And the first time I heard about it was on Friday before the first reading of the ordinance on Monday. And there was very little debate.

AMY GOODMAN: Jackie—Councilman Jackie Jarrett, I want to ask you if this proposal spread to other cities. Bill McNiff, chair of the tea party in Canton, Georgia, said he hopes this does spread to other cities. Earlier this year, Spring City, Utah, passed an ordinance recommending residents keep firearms, but backing off on language requiring guns. Residents of Byron, Maine, rejected a mandatory gun law last month, after even the person who originally proposed it voted against it. Selectmen in Sabattus, Maine, also rejected a proposal to require gun ownership.

JACKIE JARRETT: [inaudible] if it does spread, because, you know, if somebody is trying to get in your door, and you yell out, you know, “I’ve got a gun!” do you think they’re going to try to bust on in then? Whether you’ve got one or not, you know. We ain’t saying that you have to have one, but we’re saying the government is saying you need to have one, so keep it to yourself if you ain’t. And so, yeah, I wouldn’t mind seeing it spread, as far as that goes. But I’m not a member of the tea party or anything like that. I just seen it as a positive, in every way.

And what I was looking for a while ago, Mr. Kellett here had talked to the Associated Press, and at that time he said he did own guns. This was just a few days before he stood up at our meeting and said he would have to go out and buy one because he didn’t meet none of the criterias. So, I mean, you know, I—sometimes it’s hard to understand what he’s saying.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to have Paul Barrett weigh in here, who has written about guns for many years. Paul?

PAUL BARRETT: Yeah, the question that strikes me is whether either of these gentlemen thinks that enactment of this ordinance is going to change day-to-day life in their very peaceful-sounding small town?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, what about that? Councilman Jackie Jarrett, you say that, yes, you’ve passed this ordinance, but actually no one has to get a gun; it’s just good for people to think everyone has a gun. You say you won’t put—you won’t put Mr. Kellett in jail, even though he doesn’t fit the requirements of people who, you know, could get out of owning a gun.

JACKIE JARRETT: Yeah, well, he does. One thing, if a man don’t want somebody to think they’ve got a gun on the other side of the wall, if he wants to allow a criminal to come in and not defend his self, I would say he’s got a mental capacity to not own one. So that, in itself, would be—you know, that would be a defense for me, if that’s what I was thinking, you know. So, yeah, it’s—yeah, we’re not going to—we’re not going to force him. That would be unconstitutional. You can’t do that. I don’t see no harm in—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Lamar Kellett, does that make you feel better?


AMY GOODMAN: I’m asking Lamar Kellett if it makes you feel better that you won’t be jailed, you won’t be arrested, for not having a gun.

LAMAR KELLETT: Well, I never had any doubt about that, because the model city that they are modeling their ordinance after is Kennesaw, Georgia. And Kennesaw will readily admit they have never enforced this. They’ve never issued one citation. And actually, the statistics that I looked at came from the FBI, indicated that in the years just before and just after the ordinance, there was very little change in the crime rate within the city. So it didn’t really prove that this ordinance accomplished anything.

JACKIE JARRETT: The statistics that you sent Duane Cronic and everything—Duane is a math teacher. He looked them over. He gave me a list of them. And like murder and malice, murder and everything, from 1979 to 2011, was 60 percent decrease in it; rape, 50 percent decrease; robberies, 49 percent decrease; aggravated assault, 38 percent. So I have these statistics, too. And these are the statistics you sent to Mr. Cronic. But then you say that—you’re trying to act like the statistics went up and all this stuff went up. You know, you’ve got to take into consideration that Kennesaw is a bigger place now. Nelson was, what, 500 people just a few years ago, and now then we’re 1,300. So, you know, the statistic there should be different, too, you know. So, you know, if you look at it that way—

AMY GOODMAN: Lamar Kellett, your response?

LAMAR KELLETT: Yeah, I’d like to respond to that comment. When he quotes the councilman with a master’s degree, he looked at the statistics that I sent him, and then he gave me a rebuttal. And when he did that, he compared three years prior to the ordinance to 30 years after the ordinance. So his statistics were totally bogus. I don’t have any idea that when he learned math, that that was the way you did statistics.

JACKIE JARRETT: How far back do you want to go, Mr. Kellett?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there, because we have to end the show, but you can continue to discuss it on the car ride back, since you’re going back together to Nelson, Georgia, in an hour car ride from Atlanta. And it’s a very interesting discussion that’s happening in cars and homes and schools and TV studios all over the country right now. I want to thank you both for being with us, Nelson Councilman Jackie Jarrett, in favor of requiring guns for every household. The council voted on Monday night to make gun ownership mandatory. And I also want to thank Lamar Kellett, resident of Nelson, Georgia, former chair of the city’s Planning Commission, opposes the ordinance passed Monday night requiring these heads of households to possess guns and bullets.

And also, talk about some legislation around the country right now that has been proposed. The Nelson city ordinance is not the only attention-grabbing proposal to come up since the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. In February, a state representative in Missouri introduced a bill that would charge any member of the General Assembly who introduced gun-control legislation with a felony. A voter referendum in Montana would grant police the authority to arrest FBI agents trying to enforce gun laws and charge them with kidnapping. And a bill passed by a state Senate panel in South Carolina in February would allow concealed weapons in bars, an offense currently punishable in that state for up to three years in prison.

In this last minute we have, Paul Barrett, I wanted to come back to you. You’ve been covering the whole controversy around guns for years now with Bloomberg Businessweek. The final issue of the international arms trade, the new law that has just—or the new treaty that has just passed in the U.N., the U.N. arms treaty, albeit extremely watered down.

PAUL BARRETT: Yeah, well, this is a largely symbolic gesture, but one that got nearly unanimous support in the United Nations, with only Syria, Iran and North Korea voting against it. And the idea is that law-abiding nations should monitor to whom they are selling conventional arms, which sounds like a very uncontroversial idea. The United States has backed this at the United Nations level, but the really interesting issue is that it’s clear that in the Senate, which has to ratify any treaty that the United States would sign onto, there is strong Republican opposition, and you have moderate Democrats who have also said they will vote against ratification. So you’re going to—

AMY GOODMAN: And actually, the U.S. and the NRA actually stood together in July in actually preventing the treaty from going forward, though now it has passed in a very weakened version.

PAUL BARRETT: Well, it is certainly true that the NRA has been lobbying strongly against it. And the passage of the treaty is going to become a new point of fundraising for the—

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.


AMY GOODMAN: If the U.S. doesn’t pass it in the Senate? It stands with which countries?

PAUL BARRETT: Well, I mean, sad to say, it stands with countries like North Korea and Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: We leave it there. Paul Barrett, author of Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun.

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