Tennessee Constitution

The Tennessee Constitution (Wikipedia info) was initially written in 1796. At that time it protected the right of “freemen” to keep and bear arms. Article I, Section 26 of the 1796 Tennessee Constitution 1796 provided:

“That the freemen of this state have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defence.”

In 1834, Tennessee amended Article I, Section 26 of its Constitution to read:

“That the free white men of this State have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defence.”

The 1834 amendment had the effect of precluding non-whites from claiming the “right” to keep and bear arms in Tennessee.  Oddly, it could be argued that the 1796 Constitution recognized a “right” that existed independent of Constitution but then somehow the 1834 Constitution decided an error had been made and that the rights which were recognized in 1796 were not as uniformly shared by all men (and women) as had initially been the case.

In 1870, the Tennessee Constitution was amended to remove the “white men” restriction.  Unfortunately the legislature at that time added a provision regarding the Legislature’s power to regulate the wearing of arms.  The regulatory clause may be viewed as a either a grant of power and/or a restriction on a perceived power of the legislature.  In either event, the 1870 amendment took the format that the state constitutional provision holds today:

“That the citizens of this State have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defense; but the Legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime.”

Note that the Tennessee Constitution does not mention the “militia” when it speaks of the right to keep, bear, and wear arms. It speaks of the individual rights of the citizens of this state to keep, bear and wear arms.

The authority of the Tennessee Legislature to regulate the constitutionally protected right to “wear” weapons has been restricted to those instances where the legislature’s regulation has a “well defined relation to the prevention of crime” according to the Tennessee Supreme Court. One could easily argue that any number of the statutes which the Tennessee Legislature has enacted since 1870, predominately those enacted since the 1970’s, on the issue of firearms and other weapons exceed the 1870 constitutional restriction upon the Legislature’s regulatory power.