NASHVILLE, Tenn. (April 5, 2017) – On Monday, the Tennessee Senate passed a bill that would decriminalize the manufacture and possession of firearm silencers in the state. Final passage of the bill would help foster an environment hostile to federal gun control.
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.
Passage of SB921 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.
SB921 will be transmitted to the House to wait for action on a companion bill moving through the process. HB11 has passed a House Justice Subcommittee and is now before the full Justice Committee. If HB11 passes the House, it will be reconciled with SB921 and then move on to the governor’s desk.