Harvey Lembo, a sixty-seven-year-old retired lobsterman from Rockland, Maine, was tired of being robbed. Five times in six years’ thieves broke into his home and stole cash, painkillers, and other valuables. There was no security at his apartment complex. The locks, apparently, were a joke. That left the wheelchair-bound senior with one option if he hoped to defend his life and home – buy a gun. Good thing he did for less than 24 hours after making that purchase another thief attempted to steal from Mr. Lembo – the thief was not successful.
After discovering one of their residents used a firearm to defend his home, the company managing Mr. Lembo’s affordable housing complex threatened eviction. A suit was filed in Maine Superior Court to stop that ejection on the grounds that he was exercising his Second Amendment rights.
“Threatening to evict Mr. Lembo for defending himself clearly violates his constitutional rights,” said NRA Maine State Liaison John Hohenwarter. “Self-defense is a fundamental, God-given right that belongs to every law-abiding American – no matter their tax bracket, zip code or street address. Furthermore, Article 1 Section 16 of the Maine Constitution echoes this sentiment by stating: “Every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned.”
In 1995, the Maine Supreme Court ruled that a lease provision banning residents from possessing firearms on Portland Housing Authority property violated the state’s firearm preemption law. Mr. Lembo’s complex claims they are a private company and thus not bound to the 1995 decision. What they failed to point out, however is that they do utilize federal housing programs to make rent more affordable for their lower income tenants. That would suggest an obligation to follow the rules in place for all public entities in Maine. A complex yet constitutionally imperative case.
LD 1572, An Act to Ensure Nondiscrimination Against Gun Owners in Public Housing, would make the lawsuit moot.
Introduced Maine State Senator Andre Cushing, the Act to Ensure Nondiscrimination Against Gun Owners in Public Housing prohibits any housing unit receiving public funding subsidizes from infringing upon the rights of law-abiding residents to keep and bear arms. LD 1572 doesn’t change the rules – if it was illegal for you to own a firearm due to previous convictions or institutionalization today then it will still be illegal for you to own a firearm once this bill becomes law. What this legislation does change is your ability protect yourself even when living in public housing.
Harvey Lembo was lucky that night. He knew he was in danger, he purchased a gun, and he responsibly used that gun in the defense of his home. It happens thousands of times a year throughout the United States. But what if he wasn’t that lucky? What if he never purchased a gun and was defenseless when the thief broke in? And what if the thief murdered Mr. Lembo rather than leave a witness behind?
There are thousands of Harvey Lembos out there. Single moms, retired teachers, or average Joes just trying to find their way. If we’re willing to give them a chance when it comes to finding a home, then why not give them a chance when it comes to defending it?