Housing board OKs gun policy; regulations questioned

CHAMPAIGN — Champaign County public housing commissioners on Thursday approved of a new weapons policy allowing guns on housing authority property, but the president of Champaign-based Guns Save Life argued that the rules still contain unconstitutional restrictions.

Housing officials were encouraged months ago to pass a new gun policy for residents of public housing after its insurance provider informed the agency that its past prohibition on guns was a violation of its residents' Second Amendment rights.

On Thursday, they passed a new firearms policy which preserves some restrictions on how guns can be used and stored by public housing residents. Guns Save Life President John Boch questioned some of those regulations and said the National Rifle Association is watching with interest.

"If you feel that I am wrong, my question to you is, what did you budget this year for litigation expenses?" Boch told the board.

The policy requires that gun owners in public housing inform the housing authority when they possess a gun, including providing details about the weapon. It also requires that residents keep their weapons in a locked gun case, rack or box.

Those are the two primary concerns Boch had with the policy.

Housing authority attorney Eric Hanson said he believes the agency is on sound footing with its new policy allowing guns.

"The resolution, I believe, is correct," Hanson said. "I believe it's constitutional."

The policy also requires that public housing residents go through all the normal procedures in procuring their gun. They must have a firearm owner's identification and follow all laws regarding gun ownership.

A resident cannot allow a guest onto housing authority property if the resident knows that guest is illegally carrying a firearm.

The policy explicitly prohibits the discharge of those guns in residences "except when such discharge or use is made or done in self-defense."

The rules are part of housing authority residents' lease agreements. Violations of the policy would be grounds for immediate eviction, the agreement says, as would any illegal ownership, possession or transportation of a firearm.

"I think it's self-explanatory that public housing residents have the same Constitutional rights as any other citizen of the United States," said the Rev. Larry Lewis, who was named the board chairman on Thursday.

The board voted unanimously in favor of the policy. Housing authority Executive Director Ed Bland said all it does is ask residents to let the agency know when they want to keep a firearm in their home.

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