A proposal that would protect those with National Firearms Act items from needless prosecution by local law enforcement over paperwork issues is headed to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
The measure, which would repeal Tennessee’s so-called, “Defense to Prosecution Law,” would eliminate language that forces those who own federally registered NFA items – to include select fire weapons and suppressors – to defend their ownership under local law. The bill sailed through the legislature by a 29-4 vote in the Senate on March 23 and a unanimous vote in the House last week.
Introduced as companion measures in both chambers by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, there was little discussion on the legislation.
The measure HB 136 / SB 181, aims to strike part of the present state law that makes it a Class E felony for a Tennessean to have, make, transport, repair or sell a machine gun, short-barrel rifle or shotgun or firearm silencer. As these are all federally regulated items, those who currently possess any of these under the NFA could theoretically be charged with a crime and have to produce their federal documentation to escape prosecution, or in their defense should the case reach a local court.
According to information provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as of March 2014 there were some 73,000 registered NFA items in the Volunteer State.
While instances of the law being used are rare, they nevertheless occur. Last August a Nashville man finally escaped charges from a 2013 incident in which police stopped him and seized his legal suppressor for over a year while his case wound through court over questions of its legality although he had his ATF paperwork on him.
Should the legislation be signed into law, NFA reform advocates see it as a victory to help clean up the morass of state laws that further complicate those enforced by the federal government.
“There are a number of states that have these defense-to-prosecution laws on the books,” said Todd Rathner, executive director of the NFA Freedom Alliance, in an email to Guns.com. “And the NFA Freedom Alliance is dedicated to reforming them, making NFA items completely legal to possess as long as the owner complies with federal law.”
Rathner advised his group is similarly engaged in supporting legislation in Texas against defense to prosecution laws in the Lone Star state as well.
The Tennessee legislation was transmitted to Haslam on March 31.