Can you lose your Second Amendment rights just by virtue of living in government-owned housing?
That is the issue in a lawsuit filed Wednesday by an Illinois woman and licensed firearm owner looking to overturn the East St. Louis Housing Authority's (ESLHA) prohibition on their tenants keeping guns in their residences.
The plaintiff—an ESLHA tenant identified only as N. Doe over concerns for her safety—wants to keep a weapon for self-defense, but has reportedly been threatened with eviction by both the housing agency and its executive director Mildred Motley—named as a party to the suit—unless she can verify that she does not keep a firearm in her home.
"This is a woman who has been attacked in her home, is under severe threat right now…and simply wants the means to protect herself and her family," says David Sigale, the attorney representing Doe.
According to the complaint, Doe is being actively threatened by her abusive ex-husband, a convicted murderer who, while on parole, visited shocking violence on Doe, including choking her into unconsciousness, beating her so severely she bled internally, and threatening to kill her and her children should she end their relationship.
Doe's ex-husband was sent back to prison because of these assaults, but has since been released, and has reportedly made subsequent threats against her. Doe, understandably wishes to keep a firearm in her home to protect herself and her two teenage children. Thanks to ESLHA policy, she is prohibited from doing so.
This, claims her lawsuit, denies "lawful persons Second Amendment rights due to their financial disadvantage and circumstances of residing in government housing."
Says Sigale, the Supreme Court established with its 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller case that "people are allowed to have a functional operative handgun in their home for self-defense." Heller was a landmark Second Amendment case that struck down a D.C. law forbidding most residents from keeping handguns in their homes.
Sigale has litigated a previous Second Amendment case against a housing authority in Warren County, Illinois which had similarly forbade residents from keeping firearms in their residences. That case ended with the housing authority agreeing to voluntarily strip the offending provisions about firearms possession from its lease agreements. No ruling was made as to the constitutionality of the such restrictions.
Sigale tells Reason he hopes his most recent lawsuit will clarify the constitutional question and secure his clients right to self-defense. "We want a declaration from the court that forbidding firearm possession by qualified people, whether on the threat of eviction or a stern fine, that that is unconstitutional."
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in United States District Court for Southern Illinois. The ESLHA has yet to respond.
CORRECTION: The spelling of Sigale's name has been corrected.