Housing authority's new rules for gun owners invite legal challenge

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

A couple of weeks ago we wrote about some proposed changes to the firearms policy on properties run by the Stratford, Connecticut housing authority; namely, a ban on openly-carried firearms as well as a new storage requirement for all guns and ammunition. The ban was proposed after a tenant supposedly “alarmed” his neighbors by lawfully and openly carrying his handgun for self-protection; an act not barred by either state law or housing authority policy.

Well, at least until now. On Monday, the housing authority’s board of commissioners went ahead and adopted the new restrictions, despite the likelihood of a court challenge.

The policy, which includes an exemption for police officers and other law enforcement officials, requires gun owners to conceal their weapons from public view while carrying them outside an apartment, according to authority documents. The policy also regulates the 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 newly-approved rule states in part. “Violation of this policy shall be grounds for termination of tenancy.”

As I said when I first reported on the proposed changes, the housing authority can probably get away with barring open carry as long as they’re not restricting concealed carry, though even that is up for debate in light of the Bruen decision. The more problematic portion of the new regulations is the storage requirement, which runs afoul of what the Supreme Court said in the Heller decision. While the case is best known for striking down Washington, D.C.’s ban on handguns, the decision also overturned the District’s storage policies, which required firearms to be kept locked up or disassembled with ammunition stored separately; a condition that the Court declared made self-defense in the home a practical impossibility.

The housing authority attempts to get around Heller by making one slight modification to the District’s unconstitutional storage mandate; gun owners can keep their firearm on their person, but as soon as it’s not being carried it needs to be locked up with ammo stored separately. Worried about someone breaking into your apartment while you’re slumbering away? Better get used to sleeping while strapped, because even having a loaded firearm in a locked safe on your bedside table would be cause for eviction under the new terms. Have arthritis or other conditions that may make it a little harder to get around? Well, in that case, you’re probably screwed, because it’s gonna be tough to get your gun and your ammunition and load your firearm before a much-younger intruder gets within arms reach of you.

What a waste of money to defend this absolutely horrible idea in court. And to make matters worse, the new policies don’t even get to the heart of the misguided complaints of a few residents.

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

Dorothy Tyrrell, a Baldwin Apartments resident, told the five-member authority commission in a letter that the unnamed individual had been seen walking around the complex and showing the gun to “everyone.”

Tyrrell urged the authority to approve the policy, noting that many of her neighbors are elderly and have health problems that make them especially vulnerable to gun violence.

“People are shot every day throughout this country. Why do we have to have someone walking around with a gun?” she wrote. “We live in senior housing. We need to live in peace and not worry about guns in our neighborhood.”

Tyrrell doesn’t want anyone walking around with a gun, but the only thing that’s changed is that she won’t see it happen anymore. The housing authority isn’t banning firearms from the premises. It’s not banning the carrying of firearms. Facially, these policies will do nothing to reduce the number of guns in any housing authority property, and that’s a good thing. Now, you can still argue that the housing authority is discouraging gun ownership by placing unreasonable restrictions on storing firearms and you’d be right, but that’s also the regulation that’s most likely to be tossed out as unconstitutional. At the end of the day the only thing these new regulations accomplish is making it harder for for senior citizens to be able to defend themselves from violent attackers in their own homes. If the housing authority commissioners really want to defend that in court I think they’ll get their chance, but I’d hate to be the attorney arguing to a judge that an elderly woman should be forced to be raped or murdered in order to satisfy the commissioner’s ridiculous demand that her gun be rendered useless for the purposes of self-defense unless she’s got it holstered somewhere on her body.