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Andrews v. State

The case of Andrews v. State is the single most important case regarding the right to bear arms under the Tennessee State Constitution. Article I, Section 26 of the constitution provides "That the citizens of this State have a right to keep and 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."

In Andrews the defendants were charged with possession of a revolver in violation of law. They challenged the law under both the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and under the right to bear arms provision of the Tennessee Constitution. Since constitutional doctrine at the time held that the federal Bill of Rights did not apply to the states, the Tennessee Supreme Court dismissed this count. But on the Tennessee Constitutional issue, the statute was struck down in part.

The Attorney General of Tennessee argued before the Court that the right to keep and bear arms was a mere "political right" that existed for the benefit of the state and hence could be regulated at pleasure by the state. The Court did not agree. "Bearing arms for the common defense," it said, "may well be held to be a political right, or for the protection and maintenance of such rights, intended to be guaranteed; but the right to keep them, with all that is implied fairly as an incident to this right, is a private individual right, guaranteed to the citizen, not the soldier." (1) The court concluded that citizens have the right to keep military-type weapons and to engage in the necessary practice, repair, and transportation of such weapons without any specific connection to state activities such as the militia. Those parts of the statute that applied to military-type weapons were struck down, though the provisions relating to stilettos, derringers, and such (weapons regarded as having no usefulness except to criminals) were sustained.

Andrews remains the law today. Citizens have the right to keep and bear arms, subject to legislative regulation only for the purpose of preventing crime--there is no general legislative power to regulate arms for other purposes. Andrews, along with an earlier case of Aymette v. State, sheds light on the proper interpretation of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. Aymette says that the Tennessee provision was adopted "in the same view" as was the Second Amendment, and the only U.S. Supreme Court case of this century addressing the Second Amendment relied heavily on Aymette. Should the U.S. Supreme Court address Second Amendment issues again, it seems likely it will rely heavily on Tennessee case law.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010