Editors note: This story originally appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune Nov. 5, 2000.
The murder rate in this tiny southwestern Utah town is nonexistent and drive-by shootings happen only in the movies. But it is still a good idea for residents to have a gun over the mantle. If they don’t, they are breaking the law.
An ordinance passed by the Virgin City Council this past summer requires residents to keep a firearm and plenty of ammo in their homes.
The only exemptions: People whose religious beliefs preclude possessing guns or those restricted by law from owning one.
Otherwise, every head of a household in Virgin must have a gun handy or face a misdemeanor charge, although Mayor Jay Lee indicates he probably will not seek to prosecute violators.
Utah Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Tracey Tabet said Friday she has never heard of such a law in Utah before.
"I’m not sure whether or not this is enforceable," she said. Nationally, several communities, mostly in the South, have a similar ordinance.
Utah Code 76-10-500 forbids any government agency, except the Legislature, from regulating firearms, and Tabet says that may invalidate Virgin’s ordinance.
Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith, whose department patrols Virgin, says he does not understand why the town would need to pass such a law. "I have a problem with legislating that you have to have guns. And I have equally the same problem if you are legislating to take away guns. I’m not sure it’s a role government should take."
Ken Cornelius, the only council member to vote against the measure, said the law makes no sense.
"Why even have an ordinance you can’t enforce?" he said. "Everyone in town pretty much owns a gun. I don’t think we need to encourage or demand that they have one."
Cornelius said he has not seen anyone buy a gun because of the ordinance and calls the ordinance symbolic.
"Every mayor that gets in office has to do [his or her] own thing. [Jay Lee] is just trying to make a statement." Cornelius estimates that 80 percent of the community’s 350 residents are unaware of the requirement.
The council enacted the ordinance after some residents expressed fear that their Second Amendment right to bear arms was under fire.
The move perplexes Kim DeMille of Utah’s Safe to Learn, Safe to Worship Coalition, which is fighting to keep guns out of schools and churches.
"The state Legislature hasn’t addressed guns on any basis," said DeMille. "I don’t know why they would think their Second Amendment rights are being taken away."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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