The federal government has warned Tennessee’s gun dealers that the state’s new so-called Firearms Freedom Act is meaningless, outraging Second Amendment advocates.
Tennessee Firearms Association director John Harris urged his members to bombard Congress with complaints. “The government’s grown to the point where it thinks it’s King George,” he said.
The law, one of the main conservative achievements of this year’s legislative session, purports to bar federal regulation of made-in-Tennessee firearms and ammunition. One sponsor, Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, appeared on the Glenn Beck show during the session to celebrate the law’s passage.
"You know, it's like the federal government needs to keep their hands off," Beavers declared.
But in a letter to the state’s roughly 1,000 federal firearms licensees, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said “because the Act conflicts with federal firearms laws and regulations, federal law supersedes the Act” and all provisions of federal law and regulations “continue to apply.” That means, in part, that firearms dealers must continue to conduct criminal background checks of gun purchasers.
“Essentially, ATF is saying to the state of Tennessee that the 10th Amendment no longer exists,” the Tennessee Firearms Association states on its website. “We expected such from a tyranny that no longer lives within the bounds of its express authority.”
In an interview with the City Paper, Harris said his association doesn’t recommend that gun dealers violate federal law in acts of civil disobedience.
“There are other ways to resist,” he said, “for example flooding the ATF with requests for exemptions, flooding Congress with complaints that the ATF is abusing its authority under the Constitution and writing to next governor and legislature and saying we want the attorney general and governor to stand up for Tennessee’s rights and demand that the ATF back off this letter.”
The law passed the legislature this session overwhelmingly—22-7 in the Senate and 87-1 in the House. It neatly combined both of the latest conservative causes: states’ rights and gun rights. At least two other states—Alaska and Montana—have enacted similar statutes.
During the Senate debate, Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, warned the law might confuse gun dealers who then might unwittingly break federal regulations.
“Someone’s going to read it, someone’s going to think they can do it and someone’s going to have an ATF officer in a blue windbreaker one day knocking on their door and asking them what they’re doing,” Kyle said. “This is a political statement. … There comes a point where you can take making your statements too far. Making this law is too far.”
But Beavers said the law was necessary “to prevent a federal attempt to legislate beyond the constitutional limits of Congress.”
“The federal government has overstepped its boundaries in telling us what we can do with our interstate commerce,” she said. “If guns are made in Tennessee, we propose that the federal government doesn’t have any right to tell us what to do with those.”