Senator to Abuse Victims: Laws Don’t Work. Learn Self Defense

Tuesday was a horrible day for domestic abuse victims in Tennessee.

Our state is currently 5th in the nation for women murdered by men and is consistently in the top ten states for domestic violence homicide.

Yet, on Tuesday March 26th, under pressure from the NRA, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to overturn 2017 law that protected abuse victims AND refused to even discuss a bill that would’ve been another important step in addressing domestic violence in our state.

Under state and federal law, convicted domestic violence offenders are legally prohibited from possessing firearms.

Under state law, they may surrender firearms to law enforcement, sell them to a licensed dealer, or transfer them to a Third Party.

Until 2017, prior to sentencing, domestic violence offenders were given verbal notice from a judge that if they had firearms, they were legally required to dispossess them.  The offender was not required to complete any documentation about how the guns were dispossessed.

In 2017, bipartisan legislation sponsored by Representative Farmer and Senator Massey created a procedure following a domestic violence conviction that provided written notice regarding the legal dispossession procedure and required the offender to complete an affidavit of dispossession form that would be submitted to the Court. The bill directed the state domestic violence coordinating council, in consultation with the administrative office of the courts (AOC) to develop an affidavit of dispossession form.

This bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Democrats and Republicans including Speaker Casada passed unanimously in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by Governor Haslam.

The new law was lauded as a critical step in protecting victims.

The firearm dispossession form that was developed by the state domestic violence coordinating council in consultation with the AOC is based on dispossession forms from other states.  Like most firearm dispossession forms, it asks the convicted offender to list the make and model of the firearms that he/she is dispossessing.

This is the form that was developed and is currently being used in Tennessee courts.

This year, Representative Farmer, under pressure from the NRA, filed an amended bill that would eliminate the dispossession form and procedure. He claimed that he did not fully understand the intent of the 2017 legislation, even though he is an attorney and sponsored the bill.

During discussion of the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senators Roberts said he believed such procedures and domestic violence laws were unnecessary because abusers wouldn’t follow the law and suggested instead that abuse victims be taught self-defense.

“I think one of the things that could be most effective here would be to take those people who are victims of domestic violence and I don’t know maybe accept the reality that there are 350 million guns in America and teach someone who’s a victim of domestic violence how to defend themselves.”

The amended bill will soon be on the floor of both the House and Senate.

Tennessee is one of only thirteen states that allow offenders to transfer their firearms to a third party, but the only one that does not require any information about the Third Party to be submitted to the court.

To address this lack of third party accountability, Senator Yarbro and Representative Potts introduced legislation this year that would require a third party taking possession of an offender’s firearms to submit an affidavit to the court acknowledging receipt of the offender’s weapons and affirming that they are legally allowed to possess firearms.

This legislation was developed in conjunction with domestic violence advocacy groups, law enforcement, and district attorneys, and was supported by the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police.

However, when the bill was presented before the Senate Judiciary Committee, it failed for lack of a second. Committee members were not interested in discussing the bill, or in hearing from the expert witnesses there to testify about the link between stronger domestic violence laws and reductions in domestic violence homicide.

The NRA actively worked to pass the legislation to overturn the 2017 law and against the third party affidavit bill.

Yesterday, the NRA announced that they will be opposing reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act over provisions designed to keep domestic abusers from having access to firearms.

It is shameful that we find ourselves in a place where keeping guns out of the hands of men who beat women is politically controversial.

It is shameful that lawmakers who fear being primaried by the NRA will ignore the expert opinions of advocates, police, and prosecutors when it comes to strengthening our laws to reduce our appalling rate domestic violence homicides.

And it is truly shameful that many Tennessee legislators prioritize their NRA rating over protecting victims of domestic abuse.