Last week marked the end of the Tennessee General Session. The bad news is that some of our favorite gun freedom bills failed, including HB1735, which would lower the carry age to 18, and HB1898, which would allow the carry of rifles as well as pistols.
Frustratingly, these bills did not fail for a lack of public support. In fact, HB1735 passed the House Vote 64-28 but was killed quietly in a Senate Committee. There are many reasons why this happened. Since it's an election year, a lot of folks are in a hurry to get through all the legislation so they can focus on campaigning. Also, there has recently been a lot of drama in Nashville, including a representative resigning over wire fraud charges, a few folks unexpectedly stepping down from office, and a significant amount of redistricting that will affect the midterms.
And so, a distinctly anti-controversy atmosphere emerged on the hill. Strong bills on abortion, civil asset forfeiture, and firearm freedom were delicately sidelined before they had the chance to require a courageous public vote.
However, we did see one of our good gun bills make it across the line! SB2628/HB2509 removes "short-barreled rifles and shotguns" from the prohibited weapon list and, as long as Governor Lee does not veto it, will go into effect on July 1st. Kudos to Senator Frank Nicely, Representative Rusty Grills, and their co-sponsors for relentlessly continuing to push this legislation forward, undeterred by the prevailing hostility towards gun bills that choked out good legislation all around them.
Of course, other legislators were equally bold and tenacious, but the hostility mostly came from higher up the government food chain, as shown by the fact that the Senate passed this bill 23 to 1 (with four abstaining), and the house passed it 80 to 7. Tennessee legislators clearly know that Tennessee voters want more gun freedom, and when the voters are watching, the legislators give it to them. Major hurdles remain meddling from executive advisors, pressure from departmental lobbyists, and strings being pulled by professional fundraisers.
Now, it's worth pointing out that this SBR bill doesn't do very much on its own. Even though Tennessee state law now no longer criminalizes the possession, manufacture, transport, repair, or sale of short-barreled rifles and shotguns, the ATF continues to insist that its sovereign authority towers far above mere State law and says it will send Federal agents to enforce the 1934 National Firearms Act.
It's easy to argue that this minor change to the criminal code changes nothing, especially since Tennessee cops and judges weren't jailing people for breaking the Tennessee law anyway, especially if they had paid the $200 ATF tax stamp. So, why bother?
For starters, State laws should not reinforce bad Federal laws. The 1934 National Firearms Act is an unconstitutional law and mirroring its restrictions and language at the state level is a bad thing. On that basis alone, this is a good change. However, explicitly legalizing State traffic in something that is Federally prohibited also opens the door to a larger 10th Amendment challenge.
Eighteen US states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana in direct opposition to federal law. Fifteen states have declared themselves to be Second Amendment sanctuaries (with varying levels of clarity and force) in direct opposition to federal law. Obviously, federal agencies have spent more energy resisting one of these trends than the other, but that's not the point.
The point is that both trends are part of a larger trend. More and more states are trying to take more and more power back from the Federal government in more and more areas. At the same time, the Federal government is demanding more and more power over us. 2022 has seen a record number of States adopting Constitutional Carry measures and passing stronger firearm protections even as Federal officials demand stronger restrictions and are restructuring the ATF to forcibly apply them.
And, of course, it's not just in the firearms arena; the various Federal power grabs and then various judges overturning Federal mandates are increasing the strain and resentment as we head for a bigger showdown, one that might come sooner than we thought.
This week, a draft of an impending Supreme Court ruling was leaked to the press. It heavily implies that the court will overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision this summer, giving the power to protect or kill babies back to individual states. The ramifications of this are far too many to cover here, from the civil unrest, to the elections, to what it means for future 2A decisions… It's a huge shift.
But one point stands out. Over the last few decades, twenty-one States have passed anti-abortion laws, which federal judges and prosecutors laughed at and ignored because they were merely State laws. If Roe is indeed overturned this June, those little "do-nothing" laws suddenly start doing a lot.
And so, as things change on the gun freedom front and we win various legislative battles and court cases, take public opinion victories, and change cultural perceptions… the victories are small. Things happen pretty slowly. Until they don't. Even something as insignificant as legalizing SBRs in Tennessee could be a pivot point in this larger showdown. Or it could just be another brick in the wall that we'll need for the future.
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