Day v. State

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Day v. State, 37 Tenn. (5 Sneed) 496 (1858), the Tennessee Supreme Court prohibited the use of bowie knives, Arkansas tooth-picks, and "any knife or weapon that shall in form, shape, or size resemble a bowie or Arkansas tooth-pick" carried in concealment for "sticking, cutting, awing, or intimidating any other person,", on the basis of the act of 1838, ch. 137, section 3. This precedent is cited in support of gun control statutes, but the Second Amendment does not protect a right to keep and bear bowie knives, and this was not a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The defendant, Richard Day, was involved in a dispute with Sterling T. Bacon at Bacon's home, when Bacon ordered Day to leave. Day told Bacon not to rush him, and drew a large knife from his vest. Although Day claimed he was acting in self defense, and had no intent of harming Bacon, he was convicted of felony and sentenced to prison for three years for attempting to stick, cut, awe, or intimidate Bacon with his knife.

The court held that under the act of 1838, ch. 137, sec. 3, it was a "high misdemeanor, punishable by fine and imprisonment, for any one to sell, offer to sell, or give away, or bring into this State for that purpose, these deadly instruments", or to carry them in concealment. The opinion states, "The possession and drawing of a bowie-knife in this case, is not denied; but the defense is, that it was drawn for self-preservation, and therefore, not maliciously, as required by the act, to constitute the offense." The court also held that the legislature could not have been meant to deprive the defendant of the right to defend himself, but to eliminate "great evil".

The Court concluded:

"...it was the fixed purpose of the Legislature to prohibit the use of this particular weapon for any purpose: it is not to be sold, given away, kept about the person, used or attempted to be drawn or used, not even upon a "sudden encounter." The right of self-defense is not denied, but this particular instrument is prohibited in the exercise of that right, if it be "drawn from any place of concealment about the person." If the knife be thus drawn with malice, for the purpose of "awing or intimidating any person," the offense is complete. That is the language and spirit of the act, as we think, and the charge does not go beyond it. If men wish to escape these severe consequences, let them discontinue the use of these most dangerous and bloody weapons. The Legislature has proscribed them, and men must disobey at their peril. This construction is inevitable, upon both the letter and spirit of the act, and if it invades the right of self-defense, the fault is not ours. The Legislature thought the evil great, and to effectually remove it, made the remedy strong. We approve their policy and maintain the act in all its vigor."
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