CHAMPAIGN — The Housing Authority of Champaign County is getting ready to allow its public housing residents to keep guns in their homes.
To this point, public housing residents in Champaign County have been prohibited from keeping firearms in housing authority buildings, but the agency's insurance provider is now saying that the rule is a violation of residents' Second Amendment rights.
The liability insurance provider, the Assisted Housing Risk Management Association, sent the legal alert to its roughly 200 housing authority members in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska.
If the housing authority's board of commissioners approves a policy allowing guns , public housing residents may start bringing them into their homes beginning April 1, Executive Director Ed Bland said.
"While litigation is pending in various state and federal courts across the country to determine what firearm laws and regulations are constitutionally permitted, one thing is clear: the lawful possession of a firearm in the home for purpose of self-defense is a constitutionally protected right," the AHRMA letter to the Housing Authority  states. "As a result, any public housing lease provision or rules which currently prohibits the lawful possession of a firearm in the resident's unit violates the resident's Second Amendment right and subjects the public housing authority to liability for such violation."
AHRMA CEO Julie DePasse said the legal alert went out to all of its roughly 200 member housing authorities, but she does not yet know how many might be changing policies based on the letter.
She said that the U.S. Supreme Court rulings from 2008 and 2010 cited in the letter "very clearly" state that public housing residents have a right to keep and bear arms. And that poses a legal risk to the Housing Authority of Champaign County.
"It's something that we hope they will not only consider, but based on the legal precedent cited, they need to do it or they're going to get sued," DePasse said.
The housing authority's proposed policy mirrors what is suggested by its liability insurer. Public housing residents would be required to comply with all local, state and federal laws regulating gun ownership, and they would have to register the gun with the housing authority.
Residents would not be allowed to permit any guest with a gun onto housing authority property, nor would they be allowed to fire a gun "except when such discharge or use is made or done in self-defense."
Residents would not be allowed to carry firearms in common areas of housing authority buildings, except for when that gun is being transported to the resident's unit for the first time or when it is being permanently removed from the resident's unit.
The housing authority may deny a resident from keeping a gun on its property if, after a hearing, housing officials determine the situation "poses an unreasonable risk of serious bodily injury or death to a third person."
Margaret Neil, the chairperson of the board of commissioners and a longtime resident of assisted housing, said she had not had enough time yet to review and comment on the proposal.
Bland said he does not expect public housing residents to jump at the new opportunity to bring guns into their homes.
"I don't see a lot of residents going out to get weapons," Bland said.
He also is withholding judgment as to whether the new policy poses a safety risk.
"I'm not going to jump to conclusions," Bland said. "We have responsible residents that live with us, and we're sure they will abide by the law."
Urbana Police Chief Patrick Connolly said the new policy is concerning to him.
"While I recognize everyone has Second Amendment rights, my concern is that, in the Champaign County public housing arena, there are some folks who I would be concerned have access to a firearm that are not familiar with it," Connolly said.
He said training and education about firearms is very important, and he hopes housing authority officials take precautions to get that across to their residents.
"I would just caution those who legally own the firearms that they have to take extra steps to lock up those guns," Connolly said.