ROANOKE, DEC. 15 -- City officials say they are considering including in housing project leases a provision that would prohibit tenants from possessing firearms and other weapons.
The proposal, developed in response to frequent shootings in the city's housing projects, gained momentum last week after a federal judge upheld a similar ban in Richmond.
"We're definitely taking a good, strong look at it," said Herbert McBride, executive director of the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority. "We will probably go that route."
If the provision is put into effect, tenants found in violation would be subject to eviction, McBride said.
"It will not solve all the problems, but it can be used as a tool to maybe keep an innocent bystander from being shot," he said.
Three people have been fatally shot in Roanoke housing projects this year, and reports of gunfire are almost a nightly occurrence in some areas.
Last Sunday, a 13-year-old boy was hit in the leg by a stray bullet at the Lincoln Terrace housing project. Two nights later, police stopped a woman who was running through the project with a 12-gauge shotgun.
But not everyone agrees that banning guns in the projects will stop the shooting.
In Richmond, a tenants' group and the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit against the housing authority after weapons were banned in that city's projects. U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams ruled last week that the ban was not unreasonable under the circumstances.
"I think it infringes on people's rights to choose whether or not they want to bear arms," said Alma Barlow, president of the Richmond Tenants Organization.
Williams initially had cited concerns about a housing authority lease that included the weapons ban, saying that it could make people who live in high-crime areas second-class citizens. But after a hearing on conditions in the Richmond projects, the judge lifted an injunction he had placed on the ban earlier this year.
After Williams's ruling, housing authorities in Roanoke began consulting with lawyers about a possible ban.
Authorities now are routinely evicting tenants convicted of drug-related crimes, and a trespassing policy has been revised to target crowds of troublemakers that often congregate in the projects.
The Rev. Milton Hardy, chairman of the tenants council at the Hurt Park housing project, said a ban on guns would be welcomed by most residents.
"I can speak for most of the tenants, and especially for myself, in saying that it would be the ideal thing," Hardy said.