AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage has a signed into law a bill prohibiting most private landlords who accept public housing vouchers from barring guns in their apartments.

The proposal is backed by the National Rifle Association, which has long fought to strike down gun bans in public housing. The new law, inspired by a shooting last year by a Rockland man who confronted an intruder in his apartment, goes even further. It will determine whether private property owners who receive public subsidies, such as federal Section 8 housing vouchers, can prevent their tenants from possessing guns on the property.

The new law, which goes into effect in 90 days, applies to landlords receiving federal rent subsidies under the multifamily housing rental assistance program, the housing choice voucher program, the new construction program, the substantial rehabilitation program or the moderate rehabilitation program. It allows landlords to impose “reasonable restrictions” related to the possession, use or transport of a firearm within common areas “as long as those restrictions do not circumvent the use or possession of a firearm in the tenant’s rental unit.”

Owner-occupied rental housing of four or fewer units are exempted from the bill, meaning those landlords could restrict firearms from being kept on their property.

Harvey Lembo, the retired lobsterman from Rockland whose skirmish with an intruder prompted the legislation, sued his landlord, Stanford Management Co. of Portland, in federal court after the company told him he had to relinquish his gun to continue living in his apartment.

The case has drawn legal support from the NRA, as well as criticism from a gun control group, the Maine Gun Safety Coalition. The coalition argues that a ruling against Stanford Management Co., which manages 1,500 properties across the state, would have longstanding implications for private property rights. Court action on the case is pending.

The NRA’s success with the new law builds on a previous victory. The organization won a significant public housing case in 1995, when the state’s highest court unanimously struck down a two-decade ban on guns in Portland Housing Authority projects.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.