NASHVILLE, Tenn. (July 7, 2021) – Two laws now in effect in Tennessee beg for permission to stop state and local enforcement of federal gun control.
Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) sponsored Senate Bill 1335 (SB1335). Rep. Scotty Campbell (R-Mountain City) sponsored the companion bill in House (HB928). Titled the “Tennessee Second Amendment Sanctuary Act,” the law creates a sanctuary for nothing in practice.
In 2015, Tennessee enacted a law that bans Tennessee state or local public funds, personnel, or property from being used for the “implementation, regulation, or enforcement of any federal law, executive order, rule or regulation regulating the ownership, use, or possession of firearms, ammunition, or firearm accessories” if such use “would result in the violation of Tennessee statutory or common law or the Constitution of Tennessee.”
The problem with this law is that it lacks any method to determine if a specific federal action violates the Tennessee constitution or a Tennessee law. For full effect, it needs to define specific acts that violate the state constitution. Instead, SB1335/HB928 created a process to determine constitutionality – an opinion by the U.S. or Tennessee Supreme Court. The new law added the following language to the current law.
“Pursuant to the sovereign authority of this state, a law, treaty, executive order, rule, or regulation of the United States government that has been found by the supreme court of the United States or the Tennessee supreme court to violate Article I, § 26 of the Constitution of Tennessee or the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is null, void, and unenforceable in this state.”
In other words, the state will continue to enforce all federal gun control until a court gives them permission to stop.
The law went into effect when Gov. Bill Lee signed it on May 26.
When the 2015 law passed, we described it as a first step. There was at least a slight chance that on-the-ground officers would use their own discretion and refuse to enforce a federal act based on its constitutionality. The amendment to the law enacted by the passage of SB1335/HB928 takes a step backward. By requiring a court determination, the amended bill removes all discretion and tells law enforcement to continue enforcing all federal gun control until a court gives them permission to stop. Law enforcement agencies will certainly use this type of language as an excuse to cooperate fully with federal enforcement whenever they can.
During a committee hearing on the House version of the bill, Rep. Johnny Ray Clemmons (R-Nashville) asked the pertinent question: “Why is this bill necessary?” As he pointed out, something deemed unconstitutional by a court wouldn’t be enforced anyway.
Campbell admitted that the proposed law was nothing but window-dressing, saying, “My initial goal was to affirm and put into our code exactly where Tennessee stands, so, in case anybody needs to know that, that they could consult the TCA in that regard.”
Clemmons summed up the impact of this law perfectly.
“If something is held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, it is going to be stayed necessarily and not enforced … I’m trying to figure out exactly what it’s going to do in addition to what would already be done.”
There was never an answer to Clemmon’s question because there is no answer. The proposed law would literally do nothing.
The state of Tennessee does not need permission from any court to end enforcement of federal gun control. The legislature can ban enforcement of specific acts anytime it wants for any reason. No determination of constitutionality is necessary. It can ban enforcement of all federal gun control simply because it’s Tuesday and there’s snow on the ground. The Supreme Court agrees.
“If Tennessee legislators were serious about creating a ‘Second Amendment Sanctuary’ state, they wouldn’t be waiting for permission. They’d end state and local participation in federal gun control right now,” Boldin said.
A second bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Bill (R-Riceville) (SB557) went into effect on July 1 and it will also have zero practical effect. In fact, it merely duplicates the law already on the books.
The law prohibits the allocation of public funds, personnel, or property by the state or its political subdivisions for ” the implementation, regulation, or enforcement of any federal law, executive order, rule, or regulation. or an international law or treaty regulating the ownership, use, sale, or possession of firearms, ammunition, or firearm accessories, if the expenditure of public funds would result in the violation of another Tennessee statute, Tennessee common law, or the Constitution of Tennessee.”
This bill language is almost identical to the 2015 law. And since 2015, that law has had absolutely no effect or impact in practice – because it does nothing.
Pause a moment to consider what the Tennessee legislature did. It passed a new law virtually identical to a law it amended during the same session.
“We’re not sure if these legislators just don’t know what they’re doing, or if they’re grandstanding and hoping YOU don’t know this does nothing,” Tenth Amendment Center executive director Michael Boldin said. “Either way, it’s very damaging to efforts to actually protect the Second Amendment from federal attacks.