By Sarah Mahoney
DURHAM, Maine, March 11 (Reuters) - Residents of a Maine town are expected to vote on Monday on whether each household should be required to own a firearm, a decision that has thrust the tiny town of Byron into the heated U.S. national debate on gun control.
The vote is scheduled to take place on Monday evening in a potentially rancorous annual town meeting for the rural western Maine town's 140 residents, and will be largely symbolic.
The town's head selectman says the vast majority of households in Byron already have at least one gun, and a requirement to possess guns and ammunition would be unenforceable because Maine law bars municipalities from legislating on firearms.
"It was never my intention to force anyone to own a gun who doesn't want to. My purpose was to make a statement in support of the Second Amendment (to the U.S. Constitution)," said head selectman Anne Simmons-Edmund, who proposed the ordinance and said it would be put for a vote on Monday.
The December shooting rampage that left 26 people dead at a Connecticut elementary school has reignited the national debate over guns. In response, some states have been prompted to tighten gun laws, while other states have sought to keep federal gun measures from being applied within their borders.
Byron is not the only U.S. town to mull such a measure. Last week, selectmen in the Maine town of Sabbatus, about 60 miles from Byron, voted against putting a similar proposal before town residents.
In Georgia, a city leader in Nelson has proposed an ordinance calling on every head of household to have a gun as a way to keep crime down in the city of 1,300 residents, which employs only a single police officer.
The Nelson city council is expected to vote on the gun ownership ordinance on April 1.
In Byron, Simmons-Edmund, who is also a police officer in nearby Dixfield, said the measure also reflects community concern about the remote area's rising crime rates, which she said have nearly tripled in the last year.
Not all in the town were supportive of the move.
"It gives new meaning to the term `March Madness," said Byron resident Philip Paquette, who has spent the past three decades as a Merchant Marine. "She is infringing on the rights of townspeople. I'm a hunter and own guns, and I have a right to. People also have a right not to own guns."
As for Simmons-Edmund, who says she got the idea after a suggestion from her father and fellow Byron resident Bruce Simmons.
"Five days ago, I would have predicted this article would pass," Simmons-Edmund said. "But we've gotten so much media attention, nothing would surprise me. This town has never been so closely scrutinized. It's up to the residents to decide now. And if they shoot it down, I am totally fine with it." (Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Jackie Frank)