AUGUSTA — A bill prohibiting most private landlords who accept public housing vouchers from barring guns in their tenants’ apartments drew closer to passage Wednesday after two key votes in the House.

The votes marked a reversal of fortunes for a bill that was originally rejected by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, but reconsidered amid lobbying efforts by the National Rifle Association. The NRA has taken a keen interest in the bill, as well as the incident that inspired it: a shooting last year by a Rockland man who confronted an intruder in his apartment and was later told by the property management company that he had to relinquish his gun if he wanted to keep living there.

Opponents of the proposal argue that it infringes on private landlords’ ability to craft lease agreements. Proponents countered that residents living in subsidized housing should be able to keep guns in their apartments.

The NRA and other supporters of the bill have proven more persuasive. A move to defeat the proposal was handily rejected in the Democrat-controlled House, 92-54, after a lengthy debate, and the bill was then endorsed in a follow-up vote. Further procedural votes are pending.

Rep. Lori Fowle, D-Vassalboro, co-chairwoman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, argued that the bill was a private property issue. She described the proposal as “big government” telling private landlords what they can put in their lease agreements. Fowle also contended that preventing private landlords from restricting guns in their apartments could discourage some of them from accepting public housing vouchers, thereby increasing a wait list that the Maine State Housing Authority recently pegged at 20,000 people.

Rep. David Sawicki, R-Auburn, who said that he owned apartments, said he respected private property rights but that the U.S. Constitution and the Second Amendment are the “supreme law of the land.”


Rep. Karen Gerrish, R-Lebanon, argued that residents who live in subsidized housing “should not become second-class citizens” and “lose the right to defend themselves.”

Gerrish’s comments were consistent with arguments made by the NRA, which has sent several action alerts to keep its membership engaged in the proposal.

Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, noted the NRA’s interest in the proposal, saying that he didn’t “take cues or talking points” from the organization.

Tuesday’s votes increase the likelihood that the proposal will become law. The Republican-controlled Senate already has given preliminary approval to the bill, L.D. 1572, the only significant gun-related proposal of the legislative session. Despite early concerns that the proposal will have unintended consequences for private landlords, defeating it in an election year has proven difficult, in part because lawmakers are wary of being labeled by the NRA as anti-gun rights.

The bill is part of a national NRA campaign on behalf of gun owners who live in public housing. In Maine, the organization won a significant public housing case in 1995, when the state’s highest court unanimously struck down a two-decade ban on guns in Portland Housing Authority projects.

The current bill would take that victory further by determining whether private property owners who receive public subsidies, such as federal Section 8 housing vouchers, can prevent their tenants from possessing guns on the property.


The amended bill would apply to landlords receiving federal rent subsidies under the multifamily housing rental assistance program, the housing choice voucher program, the new construction program, the substantial rehabilitation program or the moderate rehabilitation program. It allows landlords to impose “reasonable restrictions” related to the possession, use or transport of a firearm within common areas “as long as those restrictions do not circumvent the use or possession of a firearm in the tenant’s rental unit.”

Owner-occupied rental housing of four or fewer units are exempted from the bill, meaning those landlords could restrict firearms from being kept on their property.

Harvey Lembo, the retired lobsterman from Rockland whose skirmish with an intruder prompted the legislation, has sued his landlord, Stanford Management Co. of Portland, in federal court.

The case has drawn legal support from the NRA, as well as criticism from a gun control group, the Maine Gun Safety Coalition. The coalition argues that a ruling against Stanford Management Co., which manages 1,500 properties across the state, would have longstanding implications for private property rights. Court action on the case is pending.

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