NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox delivered what was, far and away, one of the best speeches of the NRA Membership Meeting on Saturday. Granted, most of it was the usual political rhetoric one expects at these kinds of meetings, but it was well-delivered and he managed to avoid the sort of, uh, gaffes that others didn’t. The most interesting part of Cox’s speech came at the end, when he discussed the story of Josephine Byrd and Charles Boone, and their legal fight for the right to keep and bear arms . . .
Both Ms. Byrd and Mr. Boone were residents of Wilmington, Delaware and lived in housing facilities managed (or outright owned, in the case of Mr. Boone) by the Wilmington Housing Authority which describes its mission as “to develop safe, decent, and affordable housing for low-income families.”
As you can probably guess, the WHA has fallen a bit short in its stated mission; the places in which both Mr. Boone and Ms. Byrd resided were unsafe with rampant crime. Delaware Online did an investigation on the WHA back in 2006, in an article titled “Trapped in Despair”. Pardon the long quote, but just take a look at what their investigation of WHA housing uncovered:
Wilmington Housing Authority buildings are crawling with crime, drugs and prostitutes. The executive director knows it. The mayor knows it. Lawmakers know it. But the problems persist.
No one knows who stabbed Charles Gordon to death in his Crestview apartment last October, much less why.
Gordon, an amateur boxer who once fought in Baltimore and Philadelphia under the name “Rocking Charlie,” likely put up a fight, even though he was 61 and living in a high-rise run by the Wilmington Housing Authority.
He was found lying on the floor, his head covered with a pillowcase.
Robbery was the most likely motive. A debit card was missing.
“I saw him that night in the elevator, and the next day I heard he was dead,” said neighbor Alfreda Webb, 61. “Crestview used to be a nice place. It was really lovely. Now, if you stay here one day, you’ll see everything imaginable. There’s no security — none at all.”
The Wilmington Housing Authority uses untrained, unlicensed and uninsured workers from temporary employment agencies to safeguard the thousands of vulnerable residents, including the elderly and handicapped, in its six high-rises — a practice residents say isn’t working, and state police say is illegal.
Some of the workers, called monitors, have criminal records. Three years after one monitor pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual contact, he was working in the high-rises under the supervision of his uncle — WHA’s security chief James Berrien.
From the street, the WHA high-rises appear well maintained, but like a Potemkin village, all is not as it seems, a News Journal investigation found.
Inside, the residents often live in fear, clinging to their dignity. They are black, white and Latino. One thing they have in common is being poor….
Josephine Byrd lived alone at Crestview. “We had a man murdered down the hall a couple of months ago. I mind my own business, keep my door locked.”
It was in this environment that Ms. Byrd and Mr. Boone decided that they wanted to exercise their right to keep and bear arms for self-defense — and, honestly, who in their shoes would not want to do so?
Unfortunately, the WHA decided that its tenants weren’t entitled to exercise that right.
Ms. Byrd’s lease agreement included the following provisio:
Tenant is not permitted to display or use any firearms, BB guns, pellet guns, slingshots, or other weapons on the premises.
Mr. Boone’s lease went even further, stating that residents were:
[n]ot to display, use, or possess … any firearms, (operable or inoperable) or other dangerous instruments or deadly weapons as defined by the laws of the State of Delaware anywhere on the property of the Authority.
Tenants were subject to eviction if they violated the firearms ban.
To their credit, Ms. Byrd and Mr. Boone decided to stand and fight for their rights. With assistance from the NRA, they were able to obtain legal counsel, who helped them take their case on a lengthy battle through first Federal, then Delaware state courts. Despite suffering reverses along the way, they kept up the fight.
In May 2014, they were vindicated. The Delaware Supreme Court, in the matter of Jane Doe and Charles Boone v. Wilmington Housing Authority ruled that the WHA’s leases violated the right to keep and bear arms guaranteed by Article I, section 20 of the Delaware Constitution.
Ms. Byrd was specially recognized at the NRA Membership Meeting for having the guts to stand and fight for her rights. For that, both she and Mr. Boone deserve our applause and thanks. In my opnion, this story needs to be shouted from the rooftops. At its core, the right to keep and bear arms is for people who are the most disadvantaged, the ones on the margins of our society, who live in the worst neighborhoods, who are just worried about doing their jobs and coming home safely.
In other words: the kind of people that folks like plutocrat Michael Bloomberg would rather leave disarmed and powerless.
[T]he right to self defense, which is at the heart of the right to bear arms in both the U.S. Constitution and the Delaware Constitution, is a natural right that every person is born with. It is not a right granted by the U.S. Constitution. Rather, the U.S. Constitution and analogous provisions in state constitutions recognize this pre-existing right…. One cannot give someone something they already have. Few rights enjoy this exalted status. It is such a fundamental right, it transcends the limited focus of this blog. God Bless America.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
DISCLAIMER: The above is an opinion piece, and is not legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship in any sense. If you need legal advice on this subject, you are strongly urged to hire and consult your own counsel. This post is entirely my own, and does not represent the positions, opinions, or strategies of my firm or clients.