After a 2014 News Channel 5 investigation determined that officials in Tennessee had been abusing the US Department of Defense’s 1033 program, which transfers surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies, Tennessee’s GOP-controlled Senate is considering a bill that would ban cops in the state from owning or using military equipment. The bill, SB0039, was introduced by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and states that “no law enforcement agency shall own or use a military vehicle, military aircraft, or military weaponry for law enforcement purposes.” The Tenth Amendment Center notes that the proposed law would also require all state and local police agencies to sell or destroy their existing inventories of military weapons and equipment before January 1, 2016.
News Channel 5‘s 2014 report noted that small law enforcement agencies, such as the McMinn County Sheriff’s Department, which received 5 military-grade weapons for each of its 31 officers, were stockpiling far more weapons than could conceivably be useful in violation of Department of Defense policy. Weapons like M-16s and M-14s fell into the wrong hands after they were stolen from police, and the son of a rural police chief was caught impersonating a police officer while carrying an M-16 that he stole from the 1033 program.
Mike Maharrey at the Tenth Amendment Center described some of the equipment that the bill would ban from use by police if it were to pass, “Banned military weapons include machine guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, flamethrowers, grenade launchers, anti-tank weapons, recoilless rifles, and crew-served weapons. The legislation also prohibits ‘military vehicles,’ defined as ‘a tactical armored vehicle obtained pursuant to Section 1033 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997.’ The bill specifically exempts some weapons, including magazine-fed, gas-operated, air-cooled rifles or carbines designed for semiautomatic or automatic fire and grenade launchers adapted for non-lethal rounds.”
SB0039 was introduced by Senator Kelsey on January 14 and currently awaits a committee assignment.
The Tennessee Senate’s bill comes at a time when politicos across the nation debate the militarization of law enforcement agencies, as many Americans were recently shocked by news footage of heavily-armored police in places like Ferguson, MO and Berkeley, CA engaging in military-style crackdowns on police brutality protesters who were angry over the officer-involved deaths of unarmed suspects Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Ben Swann recently released a Truth in Media episode looking into the root of police militarization. Watch his expose on the subject in the player, embedded below.