A Tale of two cities

When the little-known town of Morton Grove, Illinois banned outright the possession of handguns by private citizens in 1981 it received widespread publicity, with most American newspapers picking up on the story. And amongst those who read all about it were the people of Kennesaw, Georgia, another small city in need of publicity.

Soon afterwards, the public had another gun issue to read about the newly legislated "Kennesaw Ordinance", whereby householders were compelled by law to possess a firearm and ammunition for defensive purposes. Realising that the Act would he difficult to enforce, Kennesaw’s lawmakers left the door open for anybody who really didn’t want to have a gun in their house.

The law granted exemptions to paupers, felons, those with physical or mental disabilities or anybody conscientiously opposed to gun ownership. For those who disobeyed the law there was to be no penalty. For those who chose to he armed, the local police department gave proper gun-safety training, even lending weapons to people who had not yet purchased a handgun. And the training has paid off. Since 1982, not a single child has been injured in a firearm accident.

Most Kennesawans warmly welcomed the ordinance and went about their day-to-day business, armed and dangerous. Then a curious thing happened. While crime in Morton Grove started climbing, that in Kennesaw dropped as criminals decided it was healthier to look for victims elsewhere.

According to Chief of Police Robert Ruble burglaries decreased by 73 percent in Kennesaw that year, and violent crime dropped by 45 percent the year after the ordinance was implemented. And the trend continued. In 1997 The New American reported that in the fifteen years that the ordinance had been in force there had been only two murders in Kennesaw, (1984 and 1989) both carried out with knives.

In an interview in 1997, then mayor John Haynie said that he granted an average of two interviews per month on the subject with his city boasting the lowest crime rate in Georgia and the sixth lowest in the country, everybody wanted to know more about the Kennesaw Ordinance. But, said Haynie, the town is no different to any other, except that criminals stay away because they know that their victims might he armed.

"It’s not the Wild West here," said Haynie, "Is the law effective? Without a doubt. Will this law work everywhere? I can’t say. But I know it works in Kennesaw. -- Gavin Foster, True Crime, 2001

Copyright 2001 Crimefree South Africa, all rights reserved.