NASHVILLE — When Sen. Mike Bell came to the Senate floor Thursday, he was armed with razor-sharp arguments and ready to rumble over his bill legalizing switchblades and all knives with blades over 4 inches in length.
But in the end, the Rice-ville Republican easily sliced his way to success. The bill passed 27-3 without so much as a squeak from opponents and is scheduled to be heard next week in a House subcommittee.
Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney, of Jackson, who opposed it in committee citing a local police official's concerns, said nothing but voted "no" again on the floor.
Bell said, "This bill is an attempt to rewrite the knife laws ... to benefit our citizens and also to comply with what I believe to be the correct interpretation of our Second Amendment."
If a "citizen wants to carry that type of knife with them for self-defense, they should have that right," the lawmaker said, noting knives were mentioned in the U.S. Supreme Court opinion that struck down Washington, D.C.'s gun ban.
The bill, which now goes to the House, also would gut cities' ability to regulate knives. Local ordinances are all over the place, Bell said, noting some cities like Red Bank have nothing on the books while cities like Knoxville do.
People need knives for self-protection, Bell argued, citing the situation his 18-year-old daughter faces. She's too young to obtain a state-issued handgun-carry permit, he said. Permit holders must be at least 21.
Carrying a switchblade is currently a misdemeanor. As for blades longer than 4 inches, Bell said they're legal for use in hunting, fishing, similar outdoor use and "other lawful activity."
But it's not well-defined, he said. And the penalty is a felony.
Because Bell's legislation doesn't set a limit on the length of knives, it could allow Tennesseans to carry weapons like Bowie knives, possibly even swords. Bell hasn't been clear on that point, but he said Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officials told him they had no problem with the bill.
Acting on what he said was a suggestion from the Tennessee Chiefs of Police Association, he amended the bill to ensure the ban on knives on school grounds remains a crime.
In other Senate action Thursday:
• Senators voted 24-3 on another Bell measure that would ban anyone who is not a U.S. citizen from entering a polling place on election day unless a voter has requested their help in voting.
Concerns have been raised by lawmakers about United Nations observers coming to Tennessee last November and observing elections.
Actually, according to Secretary of State Tré Hargett's office, the group was the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
• Legislation letting students from public higher education institutions use their state-issued identification for voting purposes ran into trouble and was delayed.
Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron easily quashed an amendment from Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, that sought to make library-issued photo IDs acceptable.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...