NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – A bill that would expand the situations in which a Tennessean could kill a bear in self-defense has cleared hurdles on its way to becoming law.
House Bill 1453 was sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) in January. Both the House bill and its companion bill in the Senate have passed multiple committees. The Senate version, Senate Bill 1309, was recommended for passage with amendment and referred to the Senate Calendar Committee on March 8.
The bill would amend the existing state code that allows a person to kill or harm an animal in instances of self-defense, which requires a person who has killed or harmed a wild animal to notify the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) within 24 hours of the incident. The existing code also prohibits a person from claiming self-defense if the person has the ability to safely retreat from an animal (unless the animal enters a structure or tent) or if the animal was recklessly provoked or attracted.
“We have been very successful at protecting our black bear population in East Tennessee over the last decade, but with that we’ve also seen an increase in dangerous confrontations with humans in the course of normal, day-to-day life,” said Rep. Faison. “Black bears are powerful and curious animals that can be extremely unpredictable. This legislation simply allows an individual to act in self-defense to protect themselves, their family or their property when their safety is threatened. “
Faison’s bill would expand instances in which self-defense could be claimed, but only pertaining to bears. The bill specifies that a person in such a situation would have to live on a property “that adjoins a bear habitat community” and has observed a bear acting in a manner that has caused the reasonable belief that the people there are in “imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.”
The bill states the belief of danger must be “founded upon reasonable grounds.” Under the bill, a person seeking to kill or harm a bear that has presented such a threat must have first submitted a written request to the TWRA asking for the bear to be removed from the area.
If the TWRA does not respond to that request within 10 days after receiving it or if the same bear or a second enters the person’s property again, the person would be then legally permitted to claim self-defense and use deadly force against a bear.
On Wednesday, the House Bill was taken up by the State Government Committee. Faison appeared to speak for the bill before the committee, saying the bear population in East Tennessee has “grown exponentially” in the last several years.
“Where I live, I border the national park,” Faison said. “Many of us that border the national park are consistently, 365 days a year, especially on winters like this where it doesn’t get real cold, bears will come and just wreak havoc where you live. [They’ll] destroy your car, kill your animals, mess up your house.”
Faison said the bill provides clarity on when a property owner can handle a bear situation such as the one he described.
“The law is not completely clear that when the bear are not in season you have the ability to shoot a bear if it’s not coming after you,” Faison said. “This bill will clarify that if y’all will let me allow it to get passed, that place for anybody who borders the national park, they can kill a bear who is destroying their property or killing their animals or trying to get in their house.”
The committee did not have any questions for Faison after he presented the bill. The bill was recommended for passage by the committee.
News Channel 11 reached out to the TWRA for comment on the bill. A spokesperson for the agency said the TWRA does not comment on pending legislation but did point out Tennessee’s existing laws that protect citizens if they kill an animal in self-defense.
News Channel 11 also reached out to Faison for further comment, who provided the following statement:
“We have been very successful at protecting our black bear population in East Tennessee over the last decade, but with that we’ve also seen an increase in dangerous confrontations with humans in the course of normal, day-to-day life. Black bears are powerful and curious animals that can be extremely unpredictable. This legislation simply allows an individual to act in self-defense to protect themselves, their family or their property when their safety is threatened.“State Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby)