A well armed militia

A former commander in the Tennessee State Guard has lost an appeal to overturn his conviction for trying to provide his soldiers with homemade machine guns for possible use in defending the state.

At trial and in his appeal, Mr. Hamblen argued that he and his soldiers had a Second Amendment right as members of the state militia to possess military-grade weapons.

He said Tennessee’s state guard arsenal included only 21 M-16 rifles for 3,500 volunteer soldiers.

Concerned that his unit, the 201st Military Police Battalion, might get called into active duty, Hamblen obtained gun conversion kits to make semi-automatic rifles into fully automatic rifles. At least one machine gun was used in a training exercise.

The court’s opinion in Hamblen v. United States, has more facts of interest.

The all-volunteer State Guard is one of four organizations within the Tennessee Department of the Military and is authorized by Tennessee statute. The State Guard’s mission is to augment the Tennessee National Guard, and it typically performs ceremonial duties.  The State Guard is authorized to become an armed force if it is activated by the governor of Tennessee. Although it has been called into service, the State Guard has not recently been activated. If activated, the governor of Tennessee is authorized to obtain weapons needed to equip the State Guard.

State Guard policy prohibits members from either keeping State Guard weapons in their possession or carrying their own individual weapons in the course of their duty.

Hamblen never discussed his machine gun possession with his superiors at the State Guard, and no law enforcement officials or State Guard superiors knew of Hamblen’s machine guns. Hamblen admitted that no one at the State Guard ever ordered or even authorized him to obtain any weapons for the State Guard. He also admitted that he knew that his possession of the machine guns violated the statutes under which he was convicted. He believed, however, that he was authorized to possess the machine guns because the U.S. Constitution provides an exception to gun control laws and gives people the right to possess militarily useful weapons for an armed force like the State Guard.

The Hamblen decision interprets and applies Heller.