Macon City Council has no plans to outlaw gun ownership, numerous council members said Tuesday, disputing a claim by the National Rifle Association.
The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action posted an alert about 4 p.m. Monday headlined “Macon City Council Wants to Ban Your Guns.”
It says the council’s Public Safety Committee will meet “to discuss a city-wide gun ban” at 4 p.m. Thursday. That is the time for a special meeting, chaired by Councilman Virgil Watkins -- whom the NRA said is proposing a ban. But Watkins said there is no such proposal.
“It’s not on my agenda -- not pending new business or old business,” Watkins said.
Since Thursday’s meeting is specially called, only items on the published agenda can be discussed, said Councilwoman Nancy White, a member of the committee. Nothing resembling a gun ban is on that agenda, she said.
Councilman Mike Cranford, the NRA’s source for the gun-ban alert, said neither Watkins nor other council members had actually told him they want to ban guns. He based that idea on an item Watkins attached to an inter-council e-mail.
“The problem with this City Council is, once they get their mind set to violate someone’s constitutional rights, the Constitution be damned -- they’re going forward with it,” Cranford said. “I wanted to nip this thing in the bud. The very fact that he sent this out indicates to me that some wild-eyed idiot may decide that they want to do that.”
Council President James Timley said he asked council members to send him suggestions on dealing with youth violence. Only Watkins and two others responded, Timley said.
NRA spokeswoman Rachel Parsons provided the ensuing e-mail exchange. Watkins’ e-mail, sent to all council members, says “Attached are a few documents, many are still in draft form. The most relevant is the one titleled (sic) Proposal-Gang Reduction Program 1.”
Friday, Cranford forwarded it to the NRA, with this note:
“I am a city councilman for the city of Macon, Ga. and one of our councilmen is proposing a gun ban ordinance due to a rash of juvenile crimes. He intends to copy a Cook County ordinance (see attachment) and he is setting meeting (sic) for next week. I am a former NRA member and I’m against any type of ban and think that if our city does it, it may create a flood of such laws. Please give me some materials, research and/or any kind of help you may offer so I can try to combat this.”
One of Watkins’ attached documents is a proposed agenda for Thursday’s meeting. While it differs from the final version, it also does not include a gun ban.
In the copy of a 2006 ordinance from Cook County, Ill., some references to “Cook” are changed to “Bibb.” The Illinois legislation banned guns that carried more than 10 rounds in a magazine.
The NRA announcement tells people to attend Thursday’s meeting, and to call and e-mail council members. That provoked dozens of calls to the offices of mayor and council all day Tuesday. Cranford welcomed that news, suggesting the response may have headed off a formal proposal.
“When you send out a draft of a gun ban, the only logical conclusions is that you’re thinking about doing it, and you’re testing the water and seeing if you could get eight votes,” he said.
Parsons said when the NRA gets messages from council members, they’re taken “very seriously.” She cast doubt on Watkins’ denial, saying “we’re not going to take the words of politicians at face value.” But Parsons also said the NRA takes messages from council members -- such as Cranford’s -- “very seriously,” and quickly passes them on to individual members for “grass-roots action.”
She wasn’t sure if the NRA tried to contact Watkins before making its accusation.
“We’re thankful that no ordinance is being considered,” Parsons said after hearing of council members’ reaction.
Watkins said he forwarded various items for information but has no plans to bring up gun legislation in the near future. If he ever does, it would deal with licensing laws, not a ban, he said.
Watkins said he thinks the city’s effort should focus on crime prevention and re-integrating offenders into society.
The other three members of the council’s Public Safety Committee dismissed any suggestion that a gun ban was a credible proposal in Macon. So did Timley.
“The NRA needs to rest assured ... I’m a gun owner, and I have more than one weapon,” Timley said. “I am not, and no council member as far as I know, is going to try to put any kind of gun-control measure on the books.”
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.