Connecticut housing authority debates open carry ban, storage requirements

(AP Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press, John Rawlston)

Just a few weeks after a Tennessee appeals court ruled that a ban on firearms in public housing violates the Second Amendment rights of residents, a housing authority in the Connecticut town of Stratford is weighing whether or not to impose a ban of its own; one that’s not quite as draconian as the Tennessee gun ban but could still prove to be problematic from a legal perspective.

The Stratford Housing Authority runs eight public housing complexes in the town of about 50,000 people, and members are debating a new policy that could impact tenants at every one of those locations; a ban on openly carrying firearms, even if tenants or guests possess a valid Connecticut carry, as well as a firearms storage policy that would make it almost impossible to access their gun for self-defense.

The proposed policy, which includes an exemption for police officers and other law enforcement officials, would require gun owners to conceal their weapons from public view while being carried outside an apartment, according to authority documents. The policy also would regulate storage of guns.

“When not being lawfully carried, firearms must be stored in a locked cabinet, and ammunition must be stored at a separate location from the firearm,” the draft policy reads in part. “Violation of this policy shall be grounds for termination of tenancy.”

Of the two provisions up for debate, the storage requirement is the one that’s most likely to fail constitutional muster. As long as the SHA isn’t completely banning the bearing of arms in self-defense they might be able to get away with limiting it to concealed carry only on their property, but demanding that tenants store their guns in a way that makes them useless for self-defense is going to have a hard time standing up to a court challenge. In the Heller decision back in 20018 the Court declared that a similar storage requirement in Washington, D.C. violated the rights of District residents.

The handgun ban and the trigger-lock requirement (as applied to self-defense) violate the Second Amendment. The District’s total ban on handgun possession in the home amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of “arms” that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense. Under any of the standards of scrutiny the Court has applied to enumerated constitutional rights, this prohibition—in the place where the importance of the lawful defense of self, family, and property is most acute—would fail constitutional muster. Similarly, the requirement that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock makes it impossible for citizens to use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional.

The Stratford Housing Authority is trying to get around what SCOTUS had to say by slightly tweaking their storage requirement. Unlike the D.C. provision, which barred residents from even carrying a firearm in their home for self-defense, the housing authority will “allow” residents to protect themselves with a firearm, but only as long as its carried on their person even in their own apartment. Worried about someone breaking in while you sleep? Better get used to wearing a holster to bed.

I doubt those modifications would hold up in court, especially after the justices ruled in Bruen that gun control laws must fall in line with the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment and the right to keep and bear arms. These types of storage mandates are a fairly modern invention, and there’s no historical basis for requiring gun owners to carry their firearms around their home if they want to be able to use them for self-defense.

The ban was proposed last month after some tenants at the Raymond E. Baldwin Apartments, a 75-unit public housing complex for elderly residents on Watkins Street, informed the housing authority staff that they were frightened by another resident who they witnessed openly carrying a pistol.

According to meeting minutes from late September, the resident and gun owner later told Housing Authority Executive Director Elizabeth Sulik that he possesses a lawful permit and carries the weapon for his protection.

“Liz explained that he was making others very uncomfortable and asked him to conceal the weapon when carrying,” the minutes state. “He agreed to do so; however, a few days ago, the tenant was openly carrying again.”

Given that open carry is legal in Connecticut, the tenant wasn’t violating any law or housing authority policy, which is why the authority is now trying to go back and change their rules. In doing so, however, they’re putting the supposed comfort of some residents above the right of all residents to keep and bear arms in self-defense, and while the housing authority’s attorney may believe the proposed policy is on solid legal ground, I’m guessing my friends at the Connecticut Citizens Defense League are eager to take the SHA to court if they move forward with their anti-gun plans. We’ll see what happens when the housing authority meets to discuss the proposed policy on November 21st, but I’m not holding out much hope that the authority’s board members will do the right thing and respect the Second Amendment rights of those living in the city’s public housing.