In the 1980s a village just north of Atlanta became a town where "bearing arms" became a way of life; not for a few residents, but for practically every citizen who lived there. They did it because it was the law.
On June 1, 1992, at exactly 12:01 a.m. Kennesaw, Georgia became the first town in the United States to require each household to keep a firearm. This was the day when a city ordinance was amended to require every head of household residing in the city limits of Kennesaw to maintain a firearm, together with ammunition.
The law meant that factory workers, business men and women, school teachers, store owners, senior citizens and young adults would now have to possess a firm arm.
Within hours of the passage of this law, the news was spread throughout the world by television, radio and newspapers, and the town of Kennesaw became for a while the most talked-about place in the world; it was the biggest news to come from Kennesaw since the War Between the States.
Police Chief Dwaine Wilson said: "The national media has depicted Kennesaw as a Dodge City-type situation where everybody is walking around with handgun on their sides --- that's totally not what the philosophy is."
From the news coverage on television, people got the idea that folks in the town were just "gun-crazy," and, as Chief Wilson described, "They depicted Kennesaw as the type of town where everybody walks down the main street at High Noon."
But it was not that way. The law which required every household to have a gun was not meant to create a frontier, or wild-west town where gunfights would be held in the streets, and citizens would have to run for cover; it was Kennesaw's answer to the growing crime problem in America, and in Kennesaw.
The idea was prompted by the action in the late 1970s which took place far away in Morton Grove, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The Morton Grove law made handguns illegal; it was not designed primarily to reduce crime, but to decrease accidental deaths from handguns.
Being in favor of the right of citizens to have guns, and being very much against gun control, the people of Kennesaw pondered the question, and the City Council discussed the possibility of doing the very opposite of what Morton Grove had done; pass a law requiring citizens to have a gun in every household.
The idea originated in the mind of then Mayor, Darvin Purdy, an attorney, assisted by then Police Chief, Robert Ruble. Purdy was promoting Kennesaw's development, and figured that a safer, more crime-free environment would attract industry and healthy growth. He had already led the city in unprecedented "high-tech" development; a trend which continued to the present.
I visited Kennesaw yesterday, and met Dave Aubert, who works at the Big Shanty Museum. He provided me with an excellent booklet, The Law Heard 'Round the World, written by Robert C. Jones, and published by the Kennesaw Historical Society. The entire story of the Gun Law is told in the magnificent booklet; it helped me put together this article.
As I stood there, awed by the sight of the famed locomotive, The General, and delighted with the gem of historical preservation seen, I felt that I was holding history in my hand; I was. The booklet was part of big things that happened in Kennesaw.
Kennesaw is a town with two names; it was first called Big Shanty. The origin of the name dates back to the time when the Western and Atlantic Railroad was being built between Chattanooga and Atlanta.
As large numbers of laborers came to construct the railroad, they needed housing. To meet the need, a cluster of temporary structures -- shanties -- were built near a spring in the northern part of Cobb County.
The settlement was known as the "place of many springs." and was a meeting place and refreshment stop along the Old Peachtree Trail, according to Donna Espy. Donna also stated in her excellent article, "Kennesaw" published several years ago in cooperation with Big Shanty Museum, that the settlement in 1861 was the site of Camp McDonald, a 60-acre Confederate training post where 3,000 men were taught battle tactics.
The place got the name of Big Shanty in this way: A downgrade track to the Etowah River became known as the big grade to the shanties; it later became "the big shanty grade," and finally gained the name of "Big Shanty."
In the middle of the village was the Lacy Hotel, which became famous for the fact that The General locomotive stopped at Big Shanty, and its crew members guests at the Lacy Hotel dining room. It was here that the notorious Andrews Raiders, spies from the Union Army, stole the train, which led to the now-famous Great Locomotive Chase.
The Southern trainmen chased The General nearly to the Tennessee line, James Andrews and his saboteurs were captured, and the locomotive retrieved. After many years, the famed locomotive was returned to Georgia, and now sits near the Museum.
The name of the town was changed in 1870 to Kennesaw, a name derived from the Cherokee Indians, who lived in the area near Kennesaw Mountain. The name is probably a variation of the word, Conasauga, the name of an American Indian town nearby, a place believed to be named for an Indian chief who signed the Treaty of Holton in 1791.
The Town of Kennesaw was incorporated on September 21, 1887, to preserve its association with the longest battle of the War Between the States, which lasted 23 days in the summer of 1864; it was won by the Confederates.
Kennesaw is the site of the Kennesaw National Battlefield Park, which commemorates this standoff.
The battle took place when General William Sherman sent 16,000 troops to attack the fortified lines at Kennesaw, defended by General Joseph Johnston, who had been retreating from north Georgia against the overwhelming Union force.
The battle was waged over a 10-mile front. Confederate losses were about 800, and total Union losses were nearly 2,500; the defeat was the most severe suffered by the Federals during the Georgia campaign.
But to return. Today more interest has been generated by the Gun Law. I asked Dave Aubert if the law was still in effect; and he said it is, and from all accounts, the crime rate has made an astonishing drop because of the law. This drop includes all violent crimes.
Burglaries during the first year after the law's enforcement, dropped from 55 to 19, and the rate has remained about the same since then, even with the population doubling.
The law is a message to the world which says: Criminals are not welcome. The law is working.