Wake up California

Posted by The Wild Zimarik in Guns

National ReviewAugust 15, 1994 by Luther M. Boggs, Jr.

In March 1982, responding to the passage of a handgun ban in Morton Grove, Illinois, and the fawning media coverage that accompanied it, the city council of Kennesaw, Georgia, decided to make a statement of its own. With exceptions duly made for convicted felons, the disabled, and those with religious objections, the council passed (unanimously) an ordinance requiring each head of household to own and maintain a gun.

The moment the story hit the wire services, a media invasion swept into Kennesaw, a small city on the northwestern frontier of suburban Atlanta. The telephones of council members began ringing off the hook. CNN called. Today called. The then-mayor, Darvin Purdy, went on Donahue.

The press reacted predictably. The Washington Post issued a mock salute to “the brave little city of Kennesaw, Ga., soon to be pistol-packing capital of the world.” In a column titled “Gun Town U.S.A.,” Art Buchwald described a place where routine disagreements would be settled in Wild West shootouts. Mayor Purdy declined to talk to the Post about his own guns, claiming that “the caliber of my weapons is a personal matter.” In the hands of the Post’s reporter, Purdy ended up sounding like Dr. Strangelove’s General Ripper, the nut bent on preserving his “precious bodily fluids.”

“The national media,” recalls Chief of Police Dwaine L. Wilson, “made a big shadoo out of it, [but] most of the people in this area already owned some type of firearm.” Actually, the media’s amazement rang hollow. The press gang expected as much from the rural South. But it is safe to say they did not expect the results.

Today Kennesaw is a burgeoning town of more than 11,000, the population having doubled since 1982. Industrial growth has transformed the former bedroom community into a bustling hub of economic activity. The town built a new wing onto city hall in 1988 and this year bought a new garbage truck and a street sweeper. Tax receipts have soared, Mayor J. O. Stephenson notes proudly, even as tax rates have fallen.

Crime just isn’t much of a problem in “Gun Town U.S.A.” According to state figures, Kennesaw’s per-capita crime rate has remained essentially static (and low) since 1983. The most recent homicide, in 1989, was committed with a knife. The last gun homicide, in 1986, involved two young men from out of state who were staying at a local motel. “A little alcohol,” Chief Wilson recalls, “had something to do with it. They were daring one another to shoot each other, so one of them did.” Aside from that incident, Wilson says, there have been no problems with “anybody shooting anybody,” even by accident.

Mayor Stephenson is proud of Kennesaw and its unique gun law. A businessman who runs his own pest-control firm, Stephenson does his mayoring part-time. The mayor thinks the election of Bill Clinton, “a liberal, Ivy Leaguer type,” gave gun-control forces a boost. Clinton may hail from a marginally Southern state, Stephenson says, but “he don’t fit the mold of most of us down thisaway.” Dismissing the Brady law as “a bunch of hogwash,” he says waiting periods “just don’t work and [only] make it inconvenient for people like me.”

Stephenson fears the slippery slope. “Next year, I’ll guaran-damn-tee you that there’ll be another bill broadening the number [and] kinds of guns you can’t own.” I ask him if Kennesaw’s gun law would work in, say, New York City. “I don’t know, but gun control don’t work in New York City either.”

A third-generation lawman who worked his way up from patrol duty, Chief Wilson looks the part with his close-cropped hair and robust build. He says people, not guns, are the fundamental problem: “People are going to find ways to kill people if that is what they want to do.” The chief doubts the worth of gun buybacks, but he is interested, musing dryly that he’s got “several old pieces” he could swap for a nice new pair of tennis shoes.

Over at the Shanty House Country Restaurant, manager Judy Turner flashes a smile when asked about the gun law. “We don’t have a [crime] problem like they do other places,” she says, because would-be crooks “all know we’ll have guns.”

No one is more enthusiastic about the law than Dent “Wildman” Myers, proprietor of Wildman’s Civil War Surplus. With a .45 holstered on each hip and a bandanna tied around his head, Myers looks like Willie Nelson retired from a biker gang. He sells an eclectic mix of books, memorabilia, war wares, and medicinal herbs. (One shelf of books is labeled “Margrat Mitchell.”)

As conspiracists and misanthropes go, Myers seems oddly light-hearted, almost jolly. He hates Bill and Hillary and “Zig-Zag” (Governor Zell Miller); doesn’t care for gays, blacks, Jews, or immigrants; mistrusts big business and big government; and figures if AIDS doesn’t end the world, “race mixing” will. He thinks baseball is fixed and that William Buckley’s “bombasticism” may have resulted from something in his childhood. (As for his own bombasticism, he says, “I’ve got no excuse.”) Genuine and colorful yet hardly representative, Myers is the first guy out-of-town reporters want to interview. He fits the bill.

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