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Town founded by Quakers issues call to arms

After seeing the chaos of Hurricane Katrina, a city councilor in tiny Greenleaf, Idaho, a town founded by pacifist Quakers, came up with a novel idea: Pass an ordinance requiring most residents to keep a gun at home in case they are overrun by refugees from the Gulf Coast.
/ Source: The Associated Press

After seeing the chaos of Hurricane Katrina, a city councilor in this tiny Idaho town founded by pacifist Quakers came up with a novel idea.

Ordinance 208, passed by the City Council on Tuesday, asks Greenleaf's 862 residents who do not object on religious or other grounds to keep a gun at home in case they are overrun by refugees from the Gulf Coast.

"This is not an 'it'll never happen here' kind of thing," said Steven Jett, the ordinance's sponsor. "We could get refugees."

In this town about 35 miles west of Boise near the Oregon line — where an estimated 80 percent of the adults already own guns — the proposal hardly caused a stir: It went through weeks of public hearings and drew only mild criticism from the pastor of the town's Quaker meeting house.

But in the six weeks since Jett first introduced the ordinance, national media have flocked to the story.

Jay Leno ribbed Greenleaf in his monologue. Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" telephoned, no doubt to exploit Idaho's reputation as wild woodland where mountain men shop for groceries with a rifle slung over a camouflage jacket.

Jett, whose father died in a hunting accident, said the ordinance is designed to enable residents to protect themselves, but it also gives the city a better platform from which to promote gun safety.

"The fact that Greenleaf supports the Second Amendment, we'll be able to keep the crime rate down," he said.

Ummm, what crime?
The thing is, Greenleaf doesn't really have crime. At least as most cities define it. The most violent offense reported in the past two years was a fistfight.

Still, Jett insists, the menace of high crime may be on the horizon.

Greenleaf is on the western fringe of Canyon County, a fast-growing suburb of Boise. As developers turn alfalfa rows into tract housing and hay bales into big box stores, Jett wants newcomers to know that criminals will not be "comfortable" in Greenleaf.

"We don't have a crime problem," he said. "But this area is going to grow and we're going to keep it that way."

Pastor Alan Weinacht originally opposed the ordinance because it conflicted with the Quaker teaching of nonviolence. Based on an unenforced 1982 law in Kennesaw, Ga., it originally require all homeowners to own and "maintain a firearm."

"It made owning a gun a basis of good citizenship," Weinacht said. "I don't know. It just seems we're slipping as a society into a culture of fear."

But then Weinacht, who owns several shotguns and rifles for hunting and target shooting, discussed the law with Jett. Jett softened the language and allowed for personal or religious exemptions.

On Tuesday, Weinacht, one of four residents to attend the council meeting, announced his support. "I want to be a team player," he told the mayor and four council members.

With that, the council approved the ordinance, with Councilor Clovis Strange joking that it had become "gutless."

Mayor Brad Holton, who owns about 25 rifles, laughed at the fact that Greenleaf's gun law had been put the town into the national media spotlight.

"It's been a wild ride," he said.