The town where gun ownership is the law

Welcome to Kennesaw, the Georgia hamlet that welcomes you—and your Colt .45 —with open arms


Hardline gun-lover: Dent ‘Wildman’ Myers cleans one of his Colt .45 revolvers in Kennesaw, Ga. (Photograph by Matt Kwong)

Gun control carries a double meaning in Kennesaw, Ga., a Southern hamlet where the mayor leaves his door unlocked, rocking chairs creak on pretty porches and locals enjoy the most fearsome gun laws in America.“You break into a house in Kennesaw, you might just end your life,” muses Lamar Cato, a regular at the Big Shanty barbershop on the city’s Main Street. “I know my rights. I use the motto, ‘shoot now, ask questions later.’ ”

Paradoxically, freedom-loving Second Amendment absolutists around town—the same folks who bemoan losing their civil liberties—also applaud Kennesaw’s unusual firearms regulations. Authorities don’t just expect residents to own guns. Legally, they demand it.

“Yes, sir, it’s the law,” says Fred Bentley, the 86-year-old lawyer who, in 1982, drafted the popular bill requiring all heads of household in the Atlanta suburb to pack a firearm with ammunition. “I got my 30-06 rifle, my double-barrelled shotgun, my six-shot revolver. We haven’t been robbed one single time, and we’ve been here 50 years.”

Supporters of the firearms mandate credit it for a 29 per cent drop in crime over 31 years, even as Kennesaw’s population grew to 33,000 residents from about 5,000 in the 1980s.“People are more aware we have this law on the books, and you might think twice before coming here to do something criminal,” Mayor Mark Mathews says.

As a national firearms debate rages in the U.S. after several mass shootings last year, the pro-gun lobby points to Kennesaw as a paragon of armed America. Police document just four gun-related homicides since 1980, making Kennesaw one of the safest communities of its size in the U.S., according to Lt. Craig Graydon of the criminal investigations unit.

“We’re not some crazy Wild West town,” Graydon says, noting the crime rate falls below half the national average. “Driving through, you might see some NRA bumper stickers, but you wouldn’t know there’s this gun law here.”

Graydon reckons half of homeowners actually comply. He doubts most newcomers realize the ordinance even exists. In his 27 years with the force, he’s never heard any fuss about repealing the policy.

The municipality adopted the law in March 1982 as a stand against the city of Morton Grove, Ill., which tried to outlaw civilian use of handguns the same year. While the Illinois ban was ruled unconstitutional, Kennesaw’s symbolic counter-law passed. Media quickly tagged the suburb, “Guntown, U.S.A.” “It was never intended to be an actual enforced law,” Graydon explains.

Many law-abiding Kennesaw residents don’t carry firearms openly. Some worry about being portrayed as redneck caricatures and distance themselves from hard-liners like Dent “Wildman” Myers, a gunslinging eccentric with a tangly beard and twin Colt .45 revolvers holstered, action-ready, to his hips.

Myers, 81, owns the Wildman’s Civil War Surplus shop. The red-brick landmark flies the rebel flag outside; indoors, Beethoven crackles on the stereo. For sale: KKK robes, white-power albums, Confederate accoutrements and Nazi literature. A bestseller is a T-shirt with crossed pistols and the slogan, “It’s the law in Kennesaw.” Orders come from across the country, Myers says.

The regulation has recently inspired four communities—in Georgia, Utah, Idaho and Maine—to model their own mandatory gun laws after Kennesaw’s. The Georgia city of Nelson, 40 minutes northwest and with a population of 1,300 and one sheriff, named its version the “Family Protection Ordinance.” The measure passed first reading and awaits an April 1 city council vote. Regional Tea Party chairman Bill McNiff, the Nelson resident who pitched the ordinance, wants the city to enact it “so the criminal element knows if you kick my door down, you better know what’s on the other side.”

And so as Washington spars over a proposed ban on assault weapons, community gun dealers like Adventure Outdoors in Kennesaw are selling out of AR-15s, the military-style semi-automatic that Adam Lanza used in the December Newtown school massacre. “People were buying them 10 at a time,” says William Boggs, a former marine who’s lived in Kennesaw for 15 years. “It’s like, get your hands on one before they make it illegal.”


The town where gun ownership is the law

  1. If you want to know what Americans are really like try hitchiking down through Detroit to Louisiana then back up through the southern states to New York. There are places in the USA where you literally don’t want to be at the wrong time of the day. Regardless of whether you’re black or white.

    • Well… Obvious that you’ve never done what you suggest… Really it’s not that bad… Lived in the USA for 35 years with no problem – and no gun. Lived in the center of Detroit for 10 years, and have traveled and hitchhiked many places. Yes, some people are paranoid – in the USA and in other places, as evidenced from the post above. Relax! It’s ok… The news reports magnify the extremes and it has an effect here and there… I have been robbed twice – once in France and once in Spain, though I don’t consider either to be dangerous…

      • OK. If the country’s so safe then why are there so many people, at last count around 1.5 million, locked up in its jails? Why are the number of homicides growing every year? Why do the number of violent crimes continue to rise in the US, if it’s so safe? Why is there a growing drug problem? Why do think that I didn’t do what I said? Is it because like so many Americans you think that youv’e got all the answers? The Americans with all their firepower, who keep telling us that theyr’e the cats ass, haven’t won a war in so long it’s a joke. The number of American soldiers who commit suicicide every day from PTSD is rising. American cities continue to file for bankruptcy. The country is 16.7 trillion dollars in debt. Yet here you are telling us all how great the USA is. How safe it is. What does NNN stand for? Or are you off your meds again? Just wondering?

        • Uh oh! Someone’s got a good bit of paranoia and anger! Or just missing your meds? :) Yes there are problems – often highlighted by commercialized news… And there are problems everywhere… I can see that you know the USA and many countries from TV. Sit back, watch the colors, read a little, judge and enjoy your own little world of fears. We all have our own experiences, and some have more imagination than others it seems. You generalizations are amusing, if misguided. There are misguided Americans and Canadians… Not everyone in the USA is as paranoid as you or those in the article, and… some know that not everyone in Canada lives in igloos! Oops… I know that because I’m Canadian! Like you, I have all of the answers! Cheers….

          • Your comments are so full of idiotic, self righteous BS, you need a shovel to keep it in different piles. Talk about being amusing. LOL

        • And we are the only country building a fence to keep people out

          • And how’s that going for you?

          • isn’t israel doing the same thing in the gaza strip? and there’s a large fence (with more than a million mines) between south and north korea

  2. I think the statement by Fred Bentley that he hasn’t been robbed “one single time” is pretty telling. People are so afraid of crime that they think it’s going to happen to them despite the odds being seriously against it. I’ve lived in Canadian cities, where no one has guns, and I haven’t been robbed in my life, can’t think of more than a couple people I know who have been.

    • Only time I was robbed was a home invasion, and … you guessed it, I lived in the U.S. at the time, in an area where gun ownership may not have been the law, but was pretty damn common. Even if we’d had a gun in the house (which we didn’t), it would have been out of reach. Although it did result in a very funny story involving a large sword.

  3. Please tell Matt Kwong that’s not a revolver.

  4. If it isn’t readily complied with than the arguments in favour of universal mandatory gun ownership don’t seem to be borne out.

  5. Given that the NRA is really about supporting the gun manufacturers, this must be their wet dream.

  6. Well, as every media they don`t cover the story properly. The law in Kennesaw, GA where i live is that you are allowed by law to shoot someone who enters your property, house , etc.. illegally. When he or she is IN your property without your permission. The law allows you to keep a firearm in your home. Not carrying it around and such. They are making it look like a dangerous place and rednecks hang out on the porch with their guns. Thats just for the media. This is the safest place i have ever been in my life. I never heard or seen of a burglary in my neighborhood nor a gunshot since i`m here and it`s been 4 years. Kennesaw is more like Orangeville, ON not like “Detroit suburb”.

  7. metropika

    Why are there so many people, at last count around 1.5 million, locked
    up in its jails?

    Because of stupid gun laws like in NY:


    Because of Stupid Drug laws that make illegal for you to have a roach (weed) in your car ashtray.

    Why are the number of homicides growing every year? Because law abiding citizens are told to call police if someone is trying to kill them. Of course, they get there in time to only call the coroner to pick up the body of the caller.

    Why do the number of violent crimes continue to rise in the US, if it’s so
    See above.
    Why is there a growing drug problem?
    Because if it’s illegal people will do it more. Legal, ppl do it less.

    Why do think that I didn’t do what I said?
    No Comment

    Is it because like so many Americans you think that you’ve
    got all the answers?


    The Americans with all their firepower, who keep telling us that they’re the cats ass, haven’t won a war in so long it’s a joke.
    This is incorrect. The last declared war that the US fought was WWII, everything else was a “POLICE ACTION”. In other words: BULLSHIT

  8. We all can argue about the 2nd Ammendment till the cows come home or Hell freezes over. The 2nd Ammendment was inacted by the Founding Fathers to prevent unannounced intrusions of their homes by armed British soldiers, The colonists were not talking about doped up sociopath shooters who spent way to many hours playing violent video games since age 6, with ADD or some other personality disorder or mental illness issues being treated with mind altering drugs perscribbed by healthcare providers who get big $$$ from drug companies to push their designer drugs.
    Is there any US citizen who wants to argue about their right to protect their home and family from anyone uninvited….citizen or government authority with an agenda to harm or steal from them. I am inclined to think any one of us would use a weapon to protect our famiiies. If you were in your home and someone forced or came in without your permission and was rapeing, beating, stabbing ect your child and there was a firearm and a phone in your proximity, which one would you pick up first.. honestly. If any of you out there would pick up the phone as your family member is being harmed I want to hear your reasoning….. What does hitch hiking have to do with this issue. I was living in Cobb co. when this law put in place and I don’t recall any news about hitchikers being singled out to be shot.
    US citizens, whether they suppopt the rigtht to bear arms or not aren’t the issue. We have major problems in the US due to the GREED crazed legislators who have forgotten who they work for. Corrupt officals from the top down to city gov.are decaying the foundation of our country,. They need a drug to regulate their honesty…is there one?

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