In a landmark decision, a state appellate court on Thursday ruled public housing landlords cannot bar tenants from possessing guns in their residences.
The first-of-its-kind ruling by the Tennessee Court of Appeals means public housing authorities across the state can no longer prohibit tenants from having guns as a condition of their leases. The decision comes in a case in which the Columbia Housing and Redevelopment Corporation in Maury County evicted tenant Kinsley Braden after discovering he had a gun inside his Creekside Acres apartment.
“As a threshold matter, we recognize that Columbia Housing is a government entity acting as a landlord of the Creekside Acres residences,” Appellate Judge Frank G. Clement Jr., wrote in Thursday’s opinion. “For this reason, the actions of Columbia Housing and the policies of Creekside Acres must conform to the (U.S.) Constitution.”
Braden signed a lease with Columbia Housing in 2018 that included a provision barring tenants from possessing guns on the premises. More than two years later, the housing authority “learned that Mr. Braden had been keeping a handgun in his residence,” the opinion stated, and filed an eviction notice against him.
Braden, who was “a law-abiding citizen who was otherwise qualified to possess a firearm,” invoked his right to go armed under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the opinion stated. Attorneys David Sigale and Eugene Hallworth argued the housing authority had no right to force Braden to give up his right to go armed as a condition of his lease — even though Braden signed the agreement.
Maury County Circuit Court Judge David L. Allen sided with Columbia Housing.
“The circuit court reasoned Mr. Braden voluntarily waived any rights he may have to possess a firearm on the premises of (Creekside Acres) under simple contract principles,” the opinion stated.
But the appellate court said Columbia Housing cannot force tenants to give up their constitutional rights as a condition of housing.
“The unconstitutional conditions doctrine provides that a government entity may not deny a benefit to a person on a basis that infringes his constitutionally protected interests,” the opinion stated. “Thus, unless an exception applies, requiring Mr. Braden to surrender the central component of his Second Amendment rights for the benefit of public housing is an unconstitutional condition.”tennessee gun ruling
Court: Public housing tenants have right to bear arms
The appellate court conceded that “numerous courts have held that laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings do not violate the Second Amendment.”
Those “sensitive places” have, under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, included “legislative assemblies, polling places and courthouses.”
But the three-judge panel noted “it remains largely unsettled whether public housing developments could constitutionally prohibit firearm possession under both the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and nearly identical provisions of certain state constitutions.”
“The (nation’s High Court) has continued to emphasize that the Second Amendment must protect the right of law-abiding citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home,” the opinion stated. “For this reason, we cannot say that an individual’s public housing unit is analogous to that of other established sensitive government buildings.”
The appellate court cited two key U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the Second Amendment — a 2008 decision in which the court struck down a Washington, D.C., ban on handguns and ruled the right to bear arms is an individual right guaranteed to all citizens and a June 2022 decision that struck down as unconstitutional a New York law requiring a license to carry concealed weapons in public places — as paving the way for Thursday’s landmark ruling.
“In light of the Supreme Court’s (June 2022) decision and keeping in mind the presumptively unconstitutional status of Columbia Housing’s policy based on the Supreme Court’s (2008) decision, we conclude that a total ban on the ability of law-abiding residents like Mr. Braden to possess a handgun within their public housing unit for the purpose of self-defense is unconstitutional under the Second Amendment,” Judge Clement wrote.
“Moreover, because broad-reaching prohibitions on possession of handguns in the home for self-defense are historically unprecedented, we hold that Columbia Housing’s overly broad prohibition against handguns in Mr. Braden’s home is an unconstitutional condition,” Clement continued. “Thus, the prohibition against handguns is an unenforceable provision of Mr. Braden’s lease agreement. Accordingly, Mr. Braden’s possession of a handgun in his home did not constitute a breach of the lease agreement.”
Attorneys for Columbia Housing could seek a review by the Tennessee Supreme Court of Thursday’s groundbreaking decision, but there is no automatic right of appeal in the case. If no such appeal is sought or the state’s High Court refuses to accept one, Thursday’s decision will become the law of the land in Tennessee.
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