TN House Approves Bill Banning Transfer Of Guns Previously Committed People

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

There are a few classes of people who are ineligible for purchasing or owning a firearm. Most notably, felons, though those inclined to continue their criminal ways seem to have little trouble getting guns anyway. Another group is those convicted of domestic violence, regardless of whether they committed a felony or not.

A third group is made up of those who have been “mentally adjudicated as defective.” In other words, those found to be suffering from rather severe mental illness, making them a threat to themselves or others.

Now, the Tennessee House has decided to step in and add its own take to this following a deadly shooting at a Nashville Waffle House last year.

The Tennessee House Monday night overwhelmingly approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, that makes it a Class A misdemeanor to transfer a firearm to someone they know has been judicially committed to a mental institution or adjudicated by a court as a “mental defective.”

The bill passed 93-2 in the GOP-run chamber with Democrats praising Smith, a former Tennessee Republican Party chairman.

Noting that she supports gun rights, has a state-issued handgun carry permit and is a life member of the National Rifle Association, Smith emphasized, “this is not a red flag bill. It includes due process.”

“Rep. Smith, I applaud you,” said Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis. “This is a good bill, well overdue. Thank you, thank you.”

During recent testimony as the bill came through House committees, Smith said the amendment “only addresses the knowing and willing transfer of weapons to someone who has been either certified [or] committed” by a court due to being a danger to themselves or to others.

That last part is important.

If you transfer a gun to someone who you didn’t know was prohibited in this way, you’re not breaking the law. It’s for knowing someone has this kind of mental illness, knowing they were committed or certified for it by a court, and still transferring a gun.

It doesn’t even create a new law to navigate. Knowingly transferring a gun to someone who was prohibited was already illegal.

Unfortunately, the Waffle House shooter got his gun back from his father despite the man knowing explicitly that his son was prohibited. What it looks like Tennessee was trying to do was put some teeth into a law that already exists.

When Rep. Smith argued this was not a red flag bill, I think that was important. It notes that Tennessee isn’t becoming an anti-gun state. While I’m sure there will be a lot of opposition to this bill throughout the gun rights community, and understandably so, the fact that Smith made it a point to note that this wasn’t a red flag bill signals that the Volunteer state is still pro-gun.

It’ll be interesting to see if this bill has any impact in Tennessee. My guess is that it won’t because I doubt there are that many people willingly transferring guns to those who are a danger to anyone. Still, we’ll have to see what, if anything, comes of this.