Public Housing Gun Ban Angers Tenants


A wave of fatal shootings, numerous burglaries and drug trafficking have persuaded some people to hold onto their weapons despite a ban on firearms in Richmond’s public housing.

“I’d rather be safe than sorry,” said Sondra Davis, 30, who lives with her 11- and 12-year-old daughters in the Hillside Court housing project.

U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams ruled Dec. 3 that the gun ban inserted into leases by the city housing authority in October was “part of a good-faith effort to improve the safety and quality of life in public housing.”


The ruling marked the first time a judge has upheld a gun ban in public housing in the United States, according to the National Rifle Assn. A Chicago ban on guns in public housing has not been challenged in court.

Davis said she won’t be deterred by the rule, under which violators can be evicted.

“Instead of dying or one of my kids getting hurt, I’d just have to find another place to live,” she said. “I’m not selling drugs. I’m just keeping a gun in my house for my protection.”

The Richmond Tenants Organization had challenged the ban as an unreasonable lease restriction that made the city’s 14,000 public housing residents second-class citizens.

Alma Barlow, president of the tenants group, said her group has not decided whether to appeal.

Some residents of the city’s 4,500 public housing units said the ban is a good idea if it helps reduce crime. They said they often hear shooting at night and have either been burglarized or seen people breaking into homes.

“It’s all right with me,” said Lena Austin, 55, as she hung laundry outside her Hillside Court home. “They need to really buckle down.”


“It will probably stop more killing around here,” said LaToya James, 18, who lives in the Blackwell complex.

About a third of Richmond’s record 111 slayings this year occurred in the seven housing projects, said Officer Stephen V. York, who compiles crime statistics for the Police Department. Many of Richmond’s slayings were drug-related. Richmond had 98 slayings in all of 1989.

Nearly 300 burglaries have been reported this year in public housing, York said.

“I’m scared to go out,” said William Loney, 70, of Hillside Court. He said he was thinking about getting a gun that he keeps at a relative’s house.

“I’ll probably do it anyway because if they say I can’t keep guns they’re responsible for my life.”