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No Switchblades for Now, But No More Local Knife Rules Under Proposal

Preempting patchwork of TN blade ordinances now the primary focus of GOP-backed legislation

A bill initially intended to lift restrictions on knives in Tennessee has been scaled back in the state House. It now only prevents cities or counties from putting new restrictions on the books that are more stringent than statewide law.

As first introduced, House Bill 581 by Savannah Republican Vance Dennis would have scrapped the state’s current ban on carrying blades longer than four inches. It also would have okayed switchblades and brass knuckles.

But after reportedly receiving pushback from law enforcement, the sponsor accepted an amendment Tuesday morning that rewrote the bill, dropping all references to blade size or type and focusing solely on state “preemption” of local rules.

While the measure, as amended, wouldn’t change the state’s current four inch rule right away, it does open the door for lawmakers to lift those restrictions in the future without worries that local authorities could interfere.

That prospect rankled some House Democrats who took up the cry for local control.

Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley voiced his opposition, telling the chamber “there are ordinances all across the state local governments have put into place affecting these particular instruments and what we’re doing here is just doing away with them. I think we need to be consistent about local control and with this amendment, it doesn’t happen.”

But sponsor Dennis wasn’t convinced, saying the legislation would simply “provide uniformity across the state in relation to knives in exactly the same way as we do with firearms.”

Last month, the Senate passed a companion version of the bill, sponsored by Mike Bell, R-Riceville, that included language dealing with blade length and knife style. But Bell told TNReport he plans to adopt the house version.

Bell said he thought that the current restriction were outdated and that he may address them with future legislation, but he said that the preemption aspect was the core of the legislation.

“It’s not the part of the bill with the most titillation factor — switchblades would be — but if you tried to pass a law legalizing switchblades without the preemption part, then every city could just ban them,” said Bell. “The preemption part is the most important part of the bill and that’s what we’re going to get.”

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