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Beavers’ firearms bill ends ‘null’
Feb 28, 2013 8:28 pm
After an hour of debate over whether state legislatures can overrule federal statutes or U.S. Supreme Court decisions, legislation sponsored by a Wilson County lawmaker calling for Tennessee nullification of federal firearms laws failed on a 4-4 vote Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
State Attorney General Bob Cooper had issued a formal legal opinion declaring the bill was unconstitutional because of the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause.
The opinion quotes a U.S. Supreme Court case: "If the legislatures of the several states may, at will, annul the judgments of the courts of the United States, and destroy the rights acquired under those judgments, the constitution itself becomes a solemn mockery. No state legislator or executive or judicial officer can war against the Constitution without violating his undertaking to support it."
But sponsor Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, brought in witnesses to counter Cooper's opinion.
Most notable was a woman calling herself "Publius Huldah," who refused to give her real name. She operates a blog under that name that promotes nullification as a valid constitutional principle.
"When the federal government makes a clearly usurpatious law, such as restricting firearms, it is the duty of the state" to nullify that law, she said.
Beavers said Thursday she was outraged at the treatment she and her witnesses received.
“I feel like the way the chairman treated some of my witnesses and myself were outrageous,” Beavers said. “We are not running a dictatorship up there. Most of the time, the chairman treats witnesses with respect, but this was not the case. It was fiasco.”
She said a tie vote means the bill is “still alive,” and she plans to continue to pursue its passage.
The committee chairman, Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown, said the bill is unconstitutional and could lead to Tennessee sheriffs and their deputies "going out and using deadly force, potentially to shoot and kill federal authorities, for enforcing the federal laws."
The bill, as filed, declares the federal agents trying to enforce a law deemed void by the Legislature would be subject to felony prosecution. An amendment added Wednesday at Beavers' request dropped the crime rating to a misdemeanor, which she said would mean federal agents could be issued a citation rather than being arrested and taken into custody by state law enforcement officers.
A legislative liaison for Gov. Bill Haslam was asked the governor's view on the bill. Samuel Arnold told the committee the administration has "significant concerns about the constitutionality" of the bill and there is "a good chance he (Haslam) is not going to sign it."
Without an actual veto, however, the bill would become law without the governor's signature.
The final 4-4 vote came with one member of the panel, Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, absent. Those voting for the bill were Sens. Mike Bell, R-Riceville; Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville; Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga; and Mark Green, R-Clarksville. Voting no were Sens. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson; Kelsey; Doug Overbey, R-Maryville; and John Stevens, R-Huntingdon.
– The Knoxville News Sentinel contributed to this report via MCT