KENNESAW, Ga. — As the debate over guns continues in Washington and in communities across the country, there’s at least one place where owning a gun is technically required by law.
In Kennesaw, Georgia, local law says “every head of household residing in the city limits is required to maintain a firearm.”
“If you’re going to commit a crime in Kennesaw and you’re the criminal — are you going to take a chance that that homeowner is a law-abiding citizen?” Kennesaw Mayor Derek Easterling asked.
Wayne Arnold is one of those citizens. Among the weapons he keeps at home are an AR-15-style .223 caliber rifle, a variety of handguns and more.
“It gives me the ability to protect myself as opposed to being somewhere where you weren’t allowed to have a firearm or it was frowned upon,” Arnold said.
It might be the law in Kennesaw to own a gun, but the police department said it isn’t actually enforced.
Many residents assumed the law dated back to the town’s founding, but it was only enacted in 1982.
“It was meant to be kind of a crime deterrent,” said Lt. Craig Graydon, who has been with the Kennesaw Police Department for more than 30 years.
“It was also more or less a political statement because the city of Morton Grove, Illinois, passed a city ordinance banning handguns from their city limits.”
Back then, the town had a population of just a few thousand. More than three decades later, the law is still on the books.
Today, Kennesaw, a town of about 33,000 people, has had one murder in the past six years and a violent crime rate of below 2 percent.
But it’s unclear whether that has anything to do with the gun law.
City officials say their relationship with the community is a key factor in maintaining public safety.
“We can’t say that just that gun law contributes x number of percent to why we have a low crime rate. It may be part of it, but it needs to be looked at from a whole picture,” Graydon said. “Don’t just look at the ordinance.”
As communities across re-examine their own relationship with guns in the wake of recent mass shootings, officials say they have been getting calls from all over the country — and even as far away as Norway — inquiring about the town’s gun law.
“We get a lot of calls, conversation, and it seems to keep crime control, gun safety, things like that on the minds of many of the residents because people are constantly talking about the gun law,” Graydon said. “So that’s been somewhat of a benefit to us.”
“The first thing that most people say when they meet us, you know as a community is, ‘Oh, it’s not what I expected,'” Easterling said.
“I don’t know what they expect of people who arm themselves with guns at home, or what they’re looking for, but really we’re not that.”
“People kind of get the image that it’s the Wild West, where everybody walks around with a firearm strapped to their side, and it’s not like that,” Arnold said.
“It’s strictly a home defense system type of deal. There’s no shootouts down the street.”