AUGUSTA — The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Thursday voted 7-6 in favor of a bill that would allow tenants who live in public housing or who receive a federal Section 8 housing voucher to keep guns in their apartments.

The final vote came two days after the panel split 4-4 Tuesday on the measure, which would require landlords and management companies that accept Section 8 vouchers to allow their tenants to keep firearms.

Sponsored by Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, LD 1572, “An Act to Ensure Nondiscrimination Against Gun Owners in Public Housing,” is a response to an incident involving Harvey Lembo, a Rockland man who is suing the owner and property management company of his Section 8 apartment.

Lembo, who uses a wheelchair, shot an alleged intruder in his home. He said he was defending himself after being robbed of his prescription medicines several times. But after the shooting, Lembo’s landlord informed him that tenants are prohibited from having firearms in the apartment building he has lived in since 1991.

Lawmakers said they were wrestling with balancing the property rights of landowners with the constitutional rights of tenants. 

To balance that concern, Cushing amended the bill so landlords who own and live in multiunit properties with four apartments or fewer could still ban guns in the Section 8 units, if they chose to do so.

The bill has no implications for privately owned apartment buildings that do not accept Section 8 tenants. The owners of those rental units would still be able to ban or not ban firearms on their property.

The bill will go to the full Senate for consideration.

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