Delaware Public Housing: Defenseless by Decree
After an investigation by the Caesar Rodney Institute revealed the state’s public housing authorities prohibit gun ownership, the National Rifle Association says it will take legal action if the gun bans are not withdrawn. by Lee Williams
WILMINGTON – Thousands of Delaware’s most vulnerable residents, forced by their socio-economic status to live in some of the state’s most dangerous neighborhoods, are prohibited from possessing the means to defend themselves from the drug dealers and thugs who infest their communities.
A five-month investigation by the Caesar Rodney Institute has revealed that all four of the state’s public housing authorities ban their residents from owning firearms – despite clear protections in the Delaware Constitution, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court decisions and recent rulings by lower courts that have found similar bans to be unconstitutional.
Violating the gun ban can result in eviction. For many families, an eviction from public housing would leave them with nowhere to go but the streets.
There are already plenty of guns in public housing, these residents say, but they’re in the hands of criminals who pay no heed to state law, much less housing authority rules or regulations. All that taxpayer-funded gun bans accomplish, they say, is to prohibit law-abiding tenants from legally acquiring the means to defend themselves.
Chris Cox is the chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association and executive director of the NRA’s political arm, the Institute for Legislative Action. He’s been called the most powerful lobbyist in America.
Cox has a simple message for these worried Delawareans, once he learned they feel trapped in their homes by armed thugs outside their doors.
“Help is on the way,” Cox said.
“We appreciate the Caesar Rodney Institute bringing this information to our attention. We are currently in the process of determining our best option. Rest assured, all options are on the table,” Cox said.
The NRA recently settled a lawsuit against the San Francisco Housing Authority, forcing the authority to remove a firearms ban that was very similar to the bans on the books in Delaware. Several years ago, a similar NRA suit forced a public housing authority in Portland, Maine to remove their firearms prohibitions.
This would be the first time that the nation’s oldest civil rights organization would challenge gun bans in all the public housing authorities of an entire, albeit small, state.
Cox said most politicians should know these types of firearms prohibitions are unconstitutional, and not a policy worth pursuing.
“I am disgusted and dismayed, but unfortunately not surprised,” he said. “We obviously think it’s wrong for a public housing authority – or any official – to deny the Second Amendment rights to anyone based on socio-economic status. It’s clearly a violation of the U.S. Constitution and it is illegal.”
The public housing gun bans also violate the unambiguous protections built into Delaware’s Constitution, which were added in 1987 by amendment after two years of effort by the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association, and by design, are more strongly worded than the Second Amendment.
Article 1, Section 20 of the Delaware Constitution states: “A person has the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and State, and for hunting and recreational use.”
“It doesn’t say anything about public housing residents being exempted,” said Dover attorney John Sigler, a retired Dover police captain, CRI board member and immediate past-president of the NRA.
“To deprive the poor, the elderly and the disabled who are forced to live in public housing of their constitutional right to keep and bear arms for self protection is both morally reprehensible and legally indefensible,” Sigler said. “I was a police officer in the City of Dover for 20 years, and I have very vivid memories of the criminal element that preyed upon the hapless, hopeless and helpless God-fearing and law-abiding citizens who simply wanted to live and let live in those neighborhoods.
“I can remember good folks whose only crime was to be poor, elderly or disabled being victimized time and again by the thugs, druggies and gangsters who found them to be easy targets; and I can remember some of those folks telling me that when the police left, they still had to live in fear in their own homes.”
The use of public funds to facilitate gun bans has outraged the former two-term NRA president.
“This unconscionable practice by public officials and governmental entities of using taxpayer dollars to systematically strip law-abiding grandmas, disabled vets and destitute single-moms of their constitutional right to keep and bear arms, and their God-given right of self defense through threats of eviction and fear of homelessness cannot be tolerated; and to the extent that such practices are in play here in Delaware, those practices must end, and they must end now,” he said.
Delaware State Housing Authority executive director Anas Ben Addi was appointed by Gov. Jack Markell, whose record on Second Amendment issues is far from clear.
Neither Ben Addi nor Wilmington Housing Authority executive director Frederick S. Purnell, Sr. were willing to be interviewed for this story. Neither Dover Housing Authority executive director Ami Sebastian-Hauer nor Newark Housing Authority executive director Marene Jordan responded to phone calls or emails seeking comment for this story.
Cox had some advice for the four uncommunicative executive directors.
“Do the right thing. The people you swear to protect and serve, the people who pay your salaries deserve better,” Cox said. “We can do it the easy way or the hard way. I strongly encourage you to do it the easy way, and do the right thing.”
For the public housing residents, whose neighborhoods contain the scattered detritus of a vibrant drug trade –crack vials, blunt tubes and the occasional shell casing – help cannot come soon enough.