The House Agriculture Subcommittee has approved separate bills on killing wildlife — one increasing penalties for illegally taking some animals and another declaring protected species can be slain in self-defense.
The self-defense bill (HB135), as amended in the subcommittee, basically mirrors state law on use of lethal force in self-defense against people, said sponsor Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, including the so-called “castle doctrine.”
The measure was inspired, Faison said, by his killing of a copperhead snake in his yard after finding the poisonous reptile while nine children were playing in the area. A report on the episode was posted on Facebook and a friend then advised him — accurately, to his surprise after researching the matter, Faison said — that he was in violation of state law by killing the snake and subject to prosecution for a misdemeanor offense.
As introduced, the bill would have applied to slaying wildlife in protection of property as well as people. But the property-protection provision was deleted — with Faison’s approval — after subcommittee Chairman Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett, said he and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials were “nervous” that the provision could lead to people “shooting things left and right,” then contending they were trying to protect property in some way.
At one point in the debate, Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, asked Faison: “If I’m in my car and that snake shows up, is it OK to kill it?” He noted that the “castle doctrine” in Tennessee has been expanded by the General Assembly to cover self-defense shootings while a person is in a motor vehicle as well as in a home.
No, replied Faison, because the car itself would provide a reasonable defense against snakebite. But, “if a bear was reaching through the window” lethal force would be in order, he said.
The penalty-enhancing proposal by Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, authorizes judges to order anyone illegally killing a deer, bear, wild hog, wild turkey or an elk to pay “restitution” to TWRA. In general, current law sets the minimum fine at $200 for such offenses, though the offender can be subject to other penalties including seizure of any weapons and equipment involved.
Marsh’s bill (HB1185) would add to current law restitution of $1,500 for a male bear; $3,000 for a female bear. For deer and wild turkeys, a basic restitution of $1,000 would be established. But for male deer, the proposal sets up a point system — the more points a buck has, the higher the restitution. For bucks with up to 10 points, it’s $500 per point; for those with more than 10 points, it’s $750 per point. For elk, the minimum restitution would be $1,500.