The City Council of Nelson, GA passed the “Family Protection Ordinance” on April 1, 2013, requiring every head of household to own a working firearm and ammunition, with some exceptions, or face a fine of up to $1,000 for violating a city ordinance. On May 16, 2013, the Brady Center filed suit against the town leadership, alleging that the gun ownership mandate was an illegal violation of the First, Second, and Fourteenth Amendments.
The suit alleged that the requirements for requesting an exception to the ordinance amounted to compelled speech, in violation of the First Amendment.The ordinance forced citizens who are subject to one of the mandate exceptions for the mentally disabled, impoverished, and those who hold certain beliefs, to declare publicly their status or beliefs in order to opt out of the requirement, in violation of the First Amendment principle that freedom of speech includes the freedom not to speak. The suit further alleged the ordinance violated city residents’ fundamental right to privacy within the sanctity of their homes, and unconstitutionally discriminates between heads of household, who are required to own a gun, and non-heads of household, whose personal beliefs cannot provide a basis for an exception to the ordinance’s mandate.
Significantly, the lawsuit also alleged that the ordinance violated the Second Amendment right to defend the home in the way the homeowner feels is most effective, which for the majority of Americans and many Nelson residents is by keeping guns out of their homes.
On August 20, 2013, the Nelson City Council settled the case with the Brady Center. The town agreed to amend the Family Protection Ordinance to make clear that the gun ownership mandate will never be enforced, and there will be no penalties for non-compliance. The amended ordinance also recognized explicitly that “the United States Constitution protects the rights of Americans to choose not to own or maintain a gun in their homes.” This is the first time a municipal, state, or federal code has recognized this interpretation of the Second Amendment. Rukesh Korde and other attorneys from the firm Covington & Burling represented the Brady Center and its members in the lawsuit.