The city of Nelson was officially served with a lawsuit Thursday brought by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and a local resident, who has now joined the suit contesting the city’s gun requirement ordinance.
Nelson City Attorney Jeff Rusbridge said Thursday afternoon that the city was served with the suit earlier in the day and is evaluating how best to proceed.
Members of the City Council, which includes acting Mayor Jonathan Bishop, could not be reached for comment.
City Manager Brandy Edwards said elected officials have been advised to not comment as the case is pending.
Lamar Kellett of Nelson has joined with the Brady Center in suing the city, claiming the ordinance is “unconstitutional” and that it left him with the choice of buying a gun or being in violation of the law.
Kellett said Thursday that he is a longtime resident of Nelson, a former member of the city’s planning commission and a member of the Brady Center. He said he is named in the center’s suit because the Family Protection Ordinance, which the Nelson City Council passed April 1, “forced” him to buy a gun and is a violation of his and other Nelson residents’ civil rights.
In its brief two paragraphs, the ordinance requires all heads of household within the city to keep a working firearm and ammunition for protection.
The ordinance also gives a sweeping list of exemptions residents could claim and not be subject to the law. Given that these exemptions cover those who oppose owning a gun, Nelson officials have said the law is not something that could be enforced.
Kellett said he does not personally oppose gun ownership and also isn’t covered by any of the other exemptions written in the ordinance.
“So being a good, law-abiding citizen,” Kellett said, “I just said ‘OK, I’ll buy my firearm.’”
According to the text of the law suit, the ordinance “forced” Kellett “against his will” to purchase a .45-caliber handgun for about $650 and the necessary ammunition for $32.
Kellett said he made the purchase in spite of the fact that members of the Nelson City Council and Nelson Police Chief Heath Mitchell have said since talks on the ordinance began that it would never be enforced and was never intended to be enforced. Kellett contends that since the ordinance does not literally say that it won’t be enforced, it could be.
“They could start enforcing it tomorrow, if they chose to,” he said. “If they chose to enforce it they’ll have to use their regular means of determining who’s in compliance and who’s not. There’s a lot of questions in this ordinance that nobody’s answered.”
Instead of being a law intended to be enforced, Nelson officials have repeatedly said the Family Protection Ordinance was meant as a warning to criminals who might wish to harm the small city of just 1,300 residents and one police officer.
It also was meant as a political statement, saying the city supported the Second Amendment and its residents’ right to bear arms, Nelson officials have said.
Kellett takes issue with this as well.
“It’s not appropriate to use your ordinances to make that kind of statement,” he said. “The Second Amendment says you have the right to have a firearm, and it’s also been interpreted to say that you have the right to not have a firearm.”