The House gave final legislative approval Monday to a bill legalizing switchblade knives in Tennessee and repealing a current law that prohibits carrying of other knives with blades more than four inches long.
The bill (SB1771) was approved 75-16 by the House after a brief discussion perhaps highlighted by some Democrats offering offering joking commentary and questions.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner asked if the bill sponsored by Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, means anyone can now carry a sword.
“I suppose you could. It might be a little cumbersome,” he replied.
House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley said he thought “brass knuckles” should have been legalized as well and Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, noted that, coupled with other bills broadening the right to carry guns, Republicans appear to be preparing for serious events in Tennessee.
“Are you all expecting the zombie apocalypse or something?… I was just wondering,” she said.
Her rhetorical question brought no response.
The bill had passed the Senate earlier and now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk for his expected signature.
The measure follows a bill enacted last year that overrode all city and county government ordinances regulating knife sales and possession, declaring that only the state can set knife rules.
The Senate went along Thursday with the House’s whittled-down version of legislation dealing with the state’s knife laws.
As passed it passed the Senate, SB1015 would have repealed provisions in current law that ban switchblades and, in some circumstances, carrying any knife with a blade more than four inches long. The House scrapped those provisions at the urging of the Tennessee Sheriffs Association and other law enforcement representatives.
What remains is a prohibition against cities and counties enacting any ordinances that contain stronger restrictions on knives than general state law. Senate sponsor Mike Bell, R-Riceville, says several local government have knife ordinances – including Knoxville – that may differ from state law.
“It’s still a good bill,” said Bell in urging colleagues to go along with the changes.
The 27-4 vote to concur in the House amendment sent the bill to the governor for his signature.
Local governments shouldn’t be allowed to play with knives, according to a bill pending before the General Assembly. And there are several pieces of legislation declaring, to one degree or another, that the federal government shouldn’t be trusted to handle guns.
Such measures, it seems, are part of a growing trend in Legislatorland to assert state supremacy. Dangerous devices may be cutting-edge issues in this regard, but it gets into some duller things as well. They might be more significant.
Now, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, has a point in his “knife rights” bill. If a national retailer is afraid to mail a blade longer than 4 inches into Tennessee, fearing criminal prosecution under state law, that law probably does need to be carved into better shape.
And if we allow citizens to possess rifles, shotguns and pistols, well, it doesn’t take piercing intellect to reason that legalizing ownership of a “switchblade” is not really slashing public safety concerns. Bell’s bill slices “4-inch blade” and “switchblade” provisions from current state law.
It also cuts local governments’ ability to enact ordinances that conflict with state knife laws. Bell says that if you leave Knoxville with a knife having a 4-inch blade in the car and drive to Clarksville, that’s fine, legally speaking, until you reach your destination, whereupon you are in violation of a local ordinance banning blades longer than 3 inches.
Sen. Mike Bell has proposed what he calls “a complete rewrite of the knife laws in Tennessee,” repealing present provisions that effectively prohibit use of “switchblades” and apparently ban use of knives with blades longer than four inches for self-defense.
Bell’s bill (SB1015) would also override multiple city and county government ordinances that restrict knives. It was approved on a 7-1 vote Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, with one member abstaining.
The Riceville Republican said he began looking into knife laws after a judge told him “a couple of years ago” he tried to order a knife from an online retailer and was told the company did not ship to Tennessee because it read state law to ban knives with blades longer than 4 inches.
He has since learned, Bell said, that “thousands of people throughout Tennessee” are violating state law by having “switchblade knives,” which he said are more properly called “spring-loaded knives.”
Bell said the present ban on switchblades, which are useful for people who need to open a knife with one hand in some situations, was banned in Tennessee and many other states after ” hysteria caused by Hollywood movies.”
Actually, he said officials of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation say they are rarely, if ever, used in crime. Further, with only a slight variation in opening procedure, a knife can avoid the switchblade designation and be legal, he said.
The bill repeals several provisions of current law, including those on the crime of carrying a knife “for the purpose of going armed.” The law now forbids having a knife with a blade of more than 4 inches for such purposes, he said, unless it is used in hunting, fishing, camping or “other lawful activity.”
Effectively, Bell said, that means a person cannot carry a knife for self-defense. He said his 18-year-old daughter cannot legally get a handgun carry permit to possess a gun for self-defense and should be able to carry a long-bladed knife instead.
The only no vote on the committee Tuesday came from Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, who said a law enforcement officer had contacted him with concerns about the bill.
Bell said pre-emption of local ordinances is needed to provide statewide uniformity in laws. Clarksville, for example, prohibits knifes with blades longer than 3 inches, shorter than the state standard. Knoxville’s city ordinance, he said, is roughly the same as current state law, though using an array of undefined terms that include “razor, dirk, Bowie knife or other knife of like form” and, in another place, “sword cane” and “ice pick” — if the named items are “for the purpose of going armed.”
Note: There is a national ‘knife rights’ effort, subject of a Mother Jones story. HT/Jeff Woods
Some state legislators are questioning whether new student conduct rules at the University of Tennessee could lead to unwarranted disciplinary action against students who keep guns and knives for legitimate reasons.
“If I read it literally, this would ban most knives with blades 3 inches or longer. But we’re going to just trust the university’s judgment about which ones to take,” said Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, in summarizing one proposed rule and UT officials’ explanation for enforcing it.
“I guess I would agree with that,” replied W. Timothy Rogers, vice chancellor for student life at UT Knoxville.
Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, recalled that he kept a shotgun, a pistol and “an assortment of knives” in a UT married student apartment during his student days, occasionally taking the shotgun across university property to his car for a hunting trip. He asked if that would put him in violation of the rules, even considering the apartment was his home.
“It would be a technical violation,” replied Matthew Scoggins, assistant general counsel for UT.