NASHVILLE, Tenn. (May 2, 2017) – Yesterday, the Tennessee House gave final approval to a bill that would decriminalize the manufacture and possession of firearm silencers in the state. If signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, the bill would help foster an environment hostile to federal gun control in Tennessee.

Sen. Steve Southerland (R-Morristown) introduced Senate Bill 921 (SB921) earlier this year. Titled the “Tennessee Hearing Protection Act,” the legislation would repeal current Tennessee statutes prohibiting the possession, manufacture, transport, repair, or sale of firearm silencers.

These devices simply muffle the sound of a gun. They do not literally silence firearms. Nevertheless, the federal government heavily regulates silencers under the National Firearms Act. The feds charge a $200 tax on the purchase of the devices. Buying a silencer also requires months-long waits after filing extensive paperwork with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The House passed SB921 by a 74-18 vote. The Senate previously passed the bill 28-1. The bill now heads to Gov. Haslam’s desk for his consideration.

If the governor signs SB921, it would not alter federal law, but it would remove a layer of law hindering access to these harmless devices. Widespread easing of silencer regulation in states subtly undermines federal efforts to regulate firearms. As we’ve seen with marijuana and industrial hemp, a federal regulation becomes ineffective when states ignore it and pass laws encouraging the prohibited activity anyway. The federal government lacks the enforcement power necessary to maintain its ban, and people will willingly take on the small risk of federal sanctions if they know the state will not interfere. This increases when the state actively encourages “the market.”

Less restrictive state gun laws such as SB921 will likely have a similar impact on federal gun laws. It will make it that much more difficult for the feds to enforce federal gun control, and increase the likelihood that states with few limits will simply refuse to cooperate with future federal enforcement efforts.

State actions like SB921 lower barriers for those wanting to the option of defending themselves with firearms and encourage a “gun-friendly” environment that would make federal efforts to limit firearms that much more difficult.

WHAT’S NEXT

Gov. Haslam will have 10 days (excluding Sunday) from the date of transmittal to his officer to sign or veto SB921. If he takes no action, it will become law without his signature.

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