Imagine waking up in the night and hearing someone in your home. How would you feel, and what would you do? Last September these were the circumstances that confronted Harvey Lembo. (See the BDN article)
Harvey awoke to movement in his kitchen, and he confronted the criminal. He made the intruder sit on a coffee table as he called 911, and when the intruder lunged off the table, Harvey, a former police constable, shot him in the shoulder. The burglar, a 41-year-old male, was finally found and arrested, only after putting up a struggle with police. Open and shut case of self-defense, right? That’s what it sounded like to me, but unfortunately Harvey’s troubles didn’t end with him proving he was willing to protect his life and property.
Harvey only did what most of us would do after being robbed several times – buy a handgun. We live in the United States, and so we have the right to defend ourselves and our property. In Maine, we’re fortunate to have this right very strongly enumerated in our state constitution.
As we learned from Harvey’s case, however, some publicly subsidized apartments have rules against tenants possessing firearms. While some may see this as well-intentioned and no different from rules about pets, smoking, and noise, it is very different because it affects constitutional rights.
Consider this: people live in public housing because they don’t have other options for a home. It is potentially their last resort for housing. Landlords however have a choice, in this case, – whether or not to accept taxpayer money or to operate solely as a private landlord.
I do not believe that landlords who choose to receive taxpayer money for rent should be allowed to step on our Constitutional rights. That is why I have proposed LD 1572, “An Act to Ensure Nondiscrimination Against Gun Owners in Public Housing.”
The Maine Supreme Court partially addressed this question in the 1995 case of Doe vs. the Portland Housing Authority. That decision, however, did not speak to individual landlords, merely government agencies. As a result, we now need to have the discussion about landlords themselves.
My legislation does not affect private landlords who do not receive taxpayer funds for rent payments. They have the right as property owners to make decisions like that. This bill focuses on helping people like Harvey, who don’t have the choice to rent from a private landlord and shop around for a lease that allows firearms.
Self-defense is the main reason I have proposed this legislation, but it certainly bears mentioning that any restriction on firearms also hurts a person’s ability to hunt. Here in Maine, that is a key part of our culture and also a part of many Mainers’ food planning throughout the year.
Landlords should certainly be able to set certain rules for tenants and be able to expect a standard of conduct. However, this should not extend to restricting Constitutional rights.
I am hopeful my colleagues in the Legislature will recognize the need for Mainers to be able to protect themselves. If you agree, let them know. It is in the best interest of all Mainers for ‘Harvey’s Law’ to be adopted and for our Second Amendment rights to be upheld.