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In a “Free” State, An Archaic Law Remains

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The flag of Tennessee

This week, Tennessee House Representative Monty Fritts introduced HB2082, intended to repeal the “intent to go armed” clause from Tennessee law.

Despite being a Second Amendment-friendly state, and offering permitless carry (a form of Constitutional Carry), Tennessee has an archaic law that makes it a crime for an individual to carry a firearm with the intent to go armed (which at first blush appears to be redundant).

The law is found in Tennessee Code Ann. § 39-17-1307 (a) (1) or Article 1 Section 26. The bill proposes to delete the phrase, “lawfully carries a handgun” and replace it with, “is not prohibited from possessing and carrying a firearm”.

In essence, the carrying of all handguns is illegal in Tennessee, with exceptions through various levels of permitting, as well as permitless carry.

According to Representative Fitts during his House hearing on the bill, “This is in direct opposition, I think, to the Second Amendment, the United States Constitution, and the Tennessee Constitution.” He also added, “Although it has become trivialized, the statement that, ‘Guns do not kill people; people kill people,’ is a true statement. It is impossible to legislate what is in the heart of a person…. What our current statutes do then is to hold criminally accountable, law-abiding citizens.”

Our current statutes presumes a level of intent and therefore a level of guilt. This flies in the face of the basic tenets of our legal system. We’re presumed innocent until proven guilty. By continuing to allow this statue to remain unchanged, it permits the Tennessee government to continue to violate the citizens’ rights as well as the ideals that our Founders and Framers envisioned.

As written and interpreted through modern language, the law appears to infer that the simple act of carrying a firearm is a crime, but the history of the law dates back to an 1880 court case from the Supreme Court of Tennessee known as Moorfield v. State.

An article from the Tennessee Firearms Association explores the genesis of the law through the original text which focused on mens rea, or the mental state of someone who is accused of committing a crime:

…the intent to carry the pistol for evil purposes, or for the purpose of being armed, in the sense of the statute, is clearly negatived, and the motive an innocent one. The object of the statute, as we have before said, is to prevent carrying a pistol with a view of being armed and ready for offense or defense in case of conflict with a citizen…

Given that Tennessee has numerous ways for an individual to carry a pistol for self-defense, an issue that often arises with this law is whether the simple act of carrying a firearm is sufficient to allow a police officer to make an investigatory stop of a person.

Another article on the Tennessee Firearms Association goes into depth on this legal topic.

We’ll continue to follow this story.

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