Tennessee bill would allow use of deadly force for a property crime

state capitol
Posted at 3:21 PM, Nov 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-20 08:45:39-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The law in Tennessee is clear: You can use deadly force only in self-defense if you fear for your life or someone else's, but, what if you could shoot someone who stole from you?

For now -- that would be a felony. But a new bill expands the uses of deadly force.

"I think the last year has raised a lot of questions in Tennessee about whether you can use force or deadly force," said John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association.

Harris said the thinks the destructive demonstrations and looting at the Davidson County Courthouse and the businesses along Lower Broadway this past May raised some concerns.

Now State Representative Jay Reedy has filed a bill that would allow a person to use deadly force to protect their property.

Harris said with police occupied elsewhere, store owners, for instance, under current law could not use lethal force to stop looting, and people are tired of it.

"The question is does the criminal just laugh at them and keep stealing stuff? At some point, juries will say you have the right to defend it and I don't care what the law says," Harris said.

The bill could address that frustration.

"The way it is written is very, very vague," said legal analyst Nick Leonardo.

He understands concerns over violent protests but he called the bill vigilante legislation.

Leonardo said it could allow a victim, when there is no personal threat, to shoot a theft suspect in the back as he runs from the scene.

"To be able to just shoot someone because you thought they were taking your personal property is not where America is or we've been in the last hundred years," Leonardo said.

Representative Reedy concedes the bill, for now, is vague and he expects it to be tightened up. But he also said law-abiding citizens have a right to protect their businesses or hard-earned personal property.

House Bill 11 is now filed for consideration. If it passes the next legislative session it would take effect in July of 2021.