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Maine Supreme Court Forbids Public Housing Gun Ban

April 4, 1995 GMT

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) _ Maine’s highest court today struck down a 20-year-old ban on guns in Portland’s public housing projects.

In its unanimous ruling, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court sidestepped the constitutional issue of the right to bear arms, focusing instead on the political status of the Portland Housing Authority.

The justices concluded that the housing agency does not have the power to regulate the possession of firearms independent of prevailing state law.

The National Rifle Association’s lawsuit challenging the ban has been watched closely around the country as a potential test of the ability of public housing agencies to restrict guns.

The NRA, acting on behalf of an anonymous couple who live in the projects and possess hunting rifles and handguns in violation of their lease agreement, argued that the ban violated the constitutional rights of gun owners.

Attorneys for the housing authority maintained that the lease clause was a reasonable rule intended to assure the safety of tenants in the agency’s more than 1,000 apartments. The rule was adopted in response to an upsurge in youth gang activity during the early 1970s.

A trial judge upheld the ban, prompting last year’s appeal to the supreme court.

Police Chief Michael Chitwood said he was disappointed but not surprised by the ruling.

``When you look at housing projects across America being our battlegrounds and war zones, and gun violence and drugs being the major problems, the Portland Housing Authority years ago took a pro-active approach by including this provision of no guns in the housing projects,″ Chitwood said.