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Signed by the Governor: New Tennessee Law Sets Stage to Reject Gun Control by International Law or Treaty

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Apr. 20, 2016) – Yesterday, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill into law setting the foundation to stop enforcement of gun control imposed by international law or treaty.

House Bill 2389 (HB2389) was introduced by Rep. John Windle (D-Livingston) in January.  It prohibits law enforcement officers from enforcing provisions of international law and treaties that limit gun rights as specified in Article I, Section 26 of the Tennessee State Constitution. It reads, in part:

“On or after July 1, 2016 no personnel or property of this state, or any political subdivision of this state, shall be allocated to the implementation, regulation, or enforcement of any international law or treaty regulating the ownership, use, or possession of firearms, ammunition, or firearm accessories, if the use of personnel or property would result in the violation of another Tennessee statute, Tennessee common law, or the Constitution of Tennessee.”

“This bill prohibits any interference of [the right to keep and bear arms] by international treaty,” said Windle on the House floor last month.

In February, a House subcommittee voted to kill the bill last month, but after heavy grassroots pressure, the subcommittee reconvened on the measure, passing it by a 3-2 vote on Mar. 16.  The full House passed the bill by an 88-2 vote. And the Senate passed it unanimously, 26-0.

LEGAL BASIS

HB2389 rests on a well-established legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine. Simply put, the federal government cannot force states to help implement or enforce any federal act or program. The anti-commandeering doctrine is based primarily on four Supreme Court cases dating back to 1842. Printz v. US serves as the cornerstone.

“We held in New York that Congress cannot compel the States to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program. Today we hold that Congress cannot circumvent that prohibition by conscripting the States’ officers directly. The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program. It matters not whether policy making is involved, and no case by case weighing of the burdens or benefits is necessary; such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty.”

FOUNDATIONAL FIRST STEP

Once it goes into effect as law this summer, the way things could play out in practice is that if the federal government were to participate in an international treaty or agreement that restricts any firearms allowed under Tennessee law or the state Constitution, and then a local cop pulled someone over for a traffic violation and saw that firearm in the car, the cop could simply give the guy a ticket for the traffic violation and send him on his way.

Recently-proposed measures, such as the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), are, as noted by Gun Owners of America, part of a plan “to bring back the framework for a global gun control regime.” Just this month, Oxfam International renewed its push for passage of the ATT. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has long-participated in the development and support of the ATT as well.

NEXT UP

HB2389 will likely require further action to be put into practical effect. A lawsuit could be necessary to determine a violation of the state Constitution, or the legislature might need to create some mechanism to determine whether a treaty or other international action was contrary to Tennessee law or the state constitution. The latter could be included in a bill next year as well.

More importantly, efforts to remove restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms from state law will be strategically essential. “If there are laws on the books that more actively protect the right to keep and bear arms in Tennessee, then any international treaty running counter to the state law would trigger a refusal to participate under the act,” said Scott Landreth of ShallNot.org. “Examples include Constitutional Carry or gun show bills that the Tennessee Firearms Association have long-supported. It’s time to get those bills passed.”

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