- - Monday, February 29, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Americans who wish to keep and bear arms have an inalienable right to do so regardless of their standing in life.

There is a concerted effort by the government, particularly state governments, to disarm disabled Americans who wish to defend themselves with firearms. Why? Government bureaucrats believe disabled individuals are incapable of being self-sufficient without government assistance. To further complicate matters, housing complexes receiving government aid in the form of Section 8 housing believe firearms pose a safety risk to their tenants.

The most recent target of this dangerous disarmament ploy is Harvey Lembo of Rockland, Maine, who is facing eviction from his apartment for merely owning a firearm.

Mr. Lembo, 67, is a retired police officer and lobsterman who is bound to a wheelchair. He currently lives in Section 8 housing due to his disability. He has been burglarized six times in the last six years. Despite this, Mr. Lembo desires to live normally and protect himself out of fear of being burglarized again.

On the evening of Aug. 31, 2015, Mr. Lembo’s residence was broken into by a 45-year-old intruder looking to steal his prescription painkillers. After Mr. Lembo shot the intruder, police apprehended him and found he had been sentenced for a felony domestic violence conviction. The morning before the incident, Mr. Lembo purchased a handgun. Had he not done so, he could have been seriously harmed or worse — killed. Although not charged with any crime for shooting the intruder in self-defense, Mr. Lembo faces homelessness if his landlord, Stanford Management LLC of Portland, gets its way. He is countersuing them on the grounds that forcing him to surrender his handgun violates his Second Amendment right to own one.

As a result of Mr. Lembo’s ordeal, lawmakers in Maine introduced a bill on Feb. 24 to protect gun owners like him who risk eviction from government housing if they own firearms. Lawmakers in Maine believe this bill would discourage private landlords from accepting government funding for housing if they impose restrictions on their tenants’ ability to use, possess or transport firearms and ammunition. Critics of this proposed legislation fear this bill, if passed, would trump private property rights and, therefore, strip private housing projects of subsidies they currently receive. However, if housing projects receive government subsidies, they are not at liberty to forbid firearms under current Maine law.

There is legal precedent allowing for Mr. Lembo to exercise his constitutional right to keep and bear arms in Section 8 housing. Article 1, Section 16 of Maine’s Constitution reads, “Every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned.” Moreover, the Maine Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that Portland Housing Authority’s lease provision prohibiting residents from having firearms on-site violates the state’s firearm preemption law, which prevents political subdivisions in Maine from creating their own firearm restrictions.

Nationally, three cases were decided in favor of the gun rights of tenants residing in housing projects: a case involving Oakwood Senior Apartments near Denver, Jane Doe and Charles Boone v. Wilmington Housing Authority in Delaware, and Guy Montag Doe v. San Francisco Housing Authority.

The first case ruled in 2013 that the Oakwood Senior Apartments could not forbid guns on their property. Residents were so outraged by the proposed ban that the Douglas County Housing Partnership immediately canceled it. Had it gone into effect, residents had until Oct. 1 of that year to relinquish their firearms or move out. In the second case, the Delaware Supreme Court unanimously ruled in 2014 that Wilmington Housing Authority could not deny residents their Second Amendment rights. The court ruled it was unconstitutional per Article 1, Section 20 of Delaware’s Constitution, which reads: “A person has the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and State, and for hunting and recreational use.” The third case decided in 2009 said the San Francisco Housing Authority could not forbid residents from owning legal firearms.

Disabled or not, all law-abiding citizens should be able to exercise their right to self-protection as a means to pursue life, liberty and happiness. Individuals such as Harvey Lembo desire to be productive members of society despite their current standing in life. Why should his already-troubled life be further complicated by this very act of disarmament? If someone has a handicap but is mentally fit and properly trained to handle firearms, he should be afforded the right to own and possess firearms like the rest of us.

Gabriella Hoffman is a young conservative columnist and blogger based in Northern Virginia.

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