Small-Town Pennsylvania Councilman Introduces Ordinance to Have Gun in Every Home

In this tiny community of clapboard houses nestled along the banks of a Pennsylvania river, many residents own guns for hunting or self-defense.

But a local councilman, inspired by steps taken by an Idaho town, has proposed an ordinance that recommends all households keep the weapons and ammunition to ward off would-be burglars and prevent crime from creeping into the area.

Council members in Cherry Tree, a borough of about 430 people, are set to meet Wednesday to discuss the Civil Protection Ordinance put forth by Henry Statkowski, a 59-year-old retired U.S. Army master sergeant and Vietnam veteran.

Talk of the proposal, which also seeks to offer firearm training at the borough hall, has elicited cautious support and bitter rebukes from area residents, many of whom commute to jobs elsewhere.

Gun-control advocates say such a measure would risk putting guns into the hands of criminals and increase gun violence.

Statkowski maintains the ordinance would keep crime down — "way down" — in Cherry Tree, a quiet village where streets are marked with wooden signs and residents say crime is largely limited to drugs, vandalism, trespassing and speeding drivers.

"This is rural America," Statkowski said in a phone interview. "You want to break into someone's house here, you might not like the consequences."

The ordinance is meant to be a proactive measure to complement the borough's police force, which consists of a handful of part-time officers who also have day jobs, Statkowski said.

"They can't be everywhere," he said. "When you need help, you need it now."

Statkowski said he decided to float the idea after learning of a similar ordinance passed last month in Greenleaf, Idaho, a town of about 850 residents where an estimated 80 percent of adults already own guns.

That ordinance asks people in the pacifist Quaker-founded town who do not object on religious or other grounds to keep a gun at home in case they are overrun by refugees from disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

Based on an unenforced 1982 law in Kennesaw, Ga., Greenleaf's law originally required all homeowners to own and maintain a firearm. The town of Bowerbank, Maine, enacted a similar regulation 12 years ago.

The Cherry Tree measure would not be the first gun-related ordinance in Pennsylvania. In 1994, Franklintown repealed a law enacted 12 years earlier requiring each household to own a gun and ammunition.

Statkowski acknowledged that Cherry Tree, a one-time logging center about 70 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, does not have a crime problem.

"We don't want one," he said, citing a recent break-in 12 miles from the borough and a drug raid five miles away.

Gary Talerico, co-owner of a local insurance agency, said he saw no need for such a measure. He described the borough as a bedroom community that relies mostly on state police for law enforcement.

"When I first heard it, I had to stop and think if we were going back to the Western days, when everybody carried a sidearm," he said. "Pros and cons? In the business we're in, I can see a lot of cons," including possible vigilante shootings.

But Esther Long, 59, a retired caregiver from neighboring Clymer, said she supported the idea, and that her two brothers and their children — all Cherry Tree residents — already have guns for hunting or protection.

"You just feel safer," she said. "All of them keep a loaded pistol. I even do, and I live in an apartment complex."

Retired coal miner Bill Schrock, 66, said he believes everyone should own a gun, but that the proposed ordinance was unnecessary.

"I think that guy just wanted to get on TV," said Schrock, who lives in a nearby town. "It ain't that bad around here. Might have a few sticky fingers around, that's all."

Diane Edbril, executive director of the gun-control advocacy group CeaseFirePA, said that "increasing the number of households with firearms will only increase the number of tragedies involving firearms in that community."

She said it would also create the potential for burglars to steal guns when they otherwise might have taken only a stereo.