Police Chief Heath Mitchell noted that the city doesn't have police officers who work 24 hours a day and is far from the two sheriff's offices that might send deputies in case of trouble, so response times to emergency calls can be long. Having a gun would help residents take their protection into their own hands, he said.

But the chief - the town's sole police officer - acknowledged the crime rate is very low. He mostly sees minor property thefts and a burglary every few months. The most recent homicide was more than five years ago, he said.

The ordinance is modeled after a similar one adopted in 1982 by Kennesaw, an Atlanta suburb. City officials there worried at the time that growth in Atlanta might bring crime to the community, which now has about 30,000 residents. Kennesaw police have acknowledged that their ordinance is difficult to enforce, and they haven't made any attempt to do so.

Leroy Blackwell, 82, has lived in Nelson for about 50 years and owns a hunting rifle he keeps in a closet. He said before the council's decision that he would support the ordinance even if it didn't have exemptions, but he would have preferred it to be voluntary.

"Really, I think it would be more fair to put it to a vote" so everybody could have a say, he said.