A bill introduced in the Tennessee Senate would prohibit state and local law enforcement from owning or using certain military equipment, whether provided through the Pentagon’s 1033 program or other grants, and would also indirectly thwart federal efforts to enforce unconstitutional laws.
Introduced by Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), SB0039 defines what types of weapons, aircraft and vehicles constitute “military equipment,” bars law enforcement agencies in the state from owning or using them, and requires the sale or destruction of any such equipment owned by a state or local law enforcement agency prior to Jan. 1 2016.
The bill lays out the prohibition in simple, unambiguous language.
No law enforcement agency shall own or use a military vehicle, military aircraft, or military weaponry for law enforcement purposes.
Banned military weapons include machine guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, flamethrowers, grenade launchers, anti-tank weapons, recoilless rifles, and crew-served weapons. The legislation also prohibits “military vehicles,” defined as “a tactical armored vehicle obtained pursuant to Section 1033 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997. The bill specifically exempts some weapons, including magazine-fed, gas-operated, air-cooled rifles or carbines designed for semiautomatic or automatic fire and grenade launchers adapted for non-lethal rounds.
As we saw during in the aftermath of the shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo. last year, local police have turned into militarized forces with little respect for the people they were meant to serve. And Ferguson was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
The ACLU recently released a report chronicling the militarization of local law enforcement. It documents the rapid increase SWAT team deployment utilizing paramilitary tactics. According to the ACLU, in nearly 80 percent of the cases, SWAT teams were rolled out for nothing more than serving warrants, usually relating to drug crimes. Almost daily, we hear reports of innocent people getting hurt in these raids.
“They’ve turned ‘protect and serve’ into ‘command and control,'” Tenth Amendment Center executive director Michael Boldin said.
Washington D.C. can largely take credit for creating the aggressive paramilitary response America witnessed in Ferguson, and played out on a smaller scale in cities across America every day.
In the 1980s, the federal government began arming, funding and training local police forces, turning peace officers into soldiers to fight in its unconstitutional “War on Drugs.” The militarization went into hyper-drive after 9/11 when a second front opened up – the “War on Terror.”
Through the federal 1033 Program, local police departments procure military grade weapons, including automatic assault rifles, body armor and mine resistant armored vehicles – essentially unarmed tanks. Police departments can even get their hands on military helicopters.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) runs the “Homeland Security Grant Program,” which in 2013 gave more than $900 million in counterterrorism funds to state and local police. According to a 2012 Senate report, this money has been used to purchase tactical vehicles, drones, and even tanks with little obvious benefit to public safety. And, according to ProPublica, “In 1994, the Justice Department and the Pentagon funded a five-year program to adapt military security and surveillance technology for local police departments that they would otherwise not be able to afford.”
Finally, local police use the lucrative federal asset forfeiture program to fund militarization. State and local law enforcement get to keep 80 percent of the value of assets seized when they help the federal government with enforcement. The feds don’t pass out all of this money and gear without strings. In return for the goodies, the feds get soldiers for their unconstitutional “law.”
By stripping state and local police of this military-grade gear, it makes them less likely to cooperate with the feds and removes incentive for partnerships. Bills like SB0039 can serve as a tool to put the squeeze on the enforcement of unconstitutional laws by denying the warrior cops the feds need to enforce their “laws.”
SB0039 was filed on Jan. 14 with a committee assignment pending.
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