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What are Tennessee’s gun laws?

by | Oct 8, 2015 | Criminal Defense |


The news has recently been full of stories involving pro-gun and anti-gun sentiments. No matter what position you take on the issue of gun legislation it is important to first to know the current laws on the books. Here is some information on the gun laws in Tennessee, which is not and should not be intended as legal advice, only educational material:

Tennessee Constitution, Article 1, Section 26 reads:

“That the citizens of the State have a right to keep and bear arms for their common defense; but that the Legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime.”

The General Assembly (Tennessee’s legislature) has enacted several laws regarding gun possession and ownership. Here are some frequently asked questions regarding these provisions:

  1. Do I need a permit to purchase a firearm? No. For rifle, shotgun, and handgun purchases there are no permits, licenses, or other registration required. Automatic weapons, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, firearm silencers, and explosive devices are illegal in Tennessee unless you have obtained a special license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
  2. Is a background check required to purchase a firearm? Sometimes. Private sellers are not required to initiate a background check. However, firearms dealers must contact the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and complete a firearm transaction record containing detailed information on the dealer, purchaser, and the firearm. TBI will perform a background check of the applicant to determine eligibility.
  3. What are the age requirements to purchase a firearm? Federal law prohibits firearms dealers from selling or delivering a handgun to anyone the dealer knows or has reasonable cause to believe is under age 21, or a rifle or shotgun to anyone under 18. Tennessee law prohibits anyone from selling any firearm to anyone under age 18.
  4. What are the age requirements to possess a firearm? There is no minimum age to possess rifles or shotguns in Tennessee, however Tennessee prohibits any person under age 18 from knowingly possessing a handgun.
  5. What could prohibit me from lawfully possessing a firearm? Any conviction under state or federal law barring you from purchasing or possessing a firearm, such as any felony conviction, stalking, domestic violence, or multiple DUIs. Also prohibited are persons who are fugitives from justice, subject to an order of protection, intoxicated, addicted to alcohol or drugs, or who have been judicially committed to a mental institution or adjudicated mentally incompetent. You may also not possess a firearm if you are not a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident.
  6. Where is it illegal to possess a firearm? If you do not have a Handgun Carry Permit you can never carry a concealed firearm unless you are in your own residence, on your own premises, or in your place of business. You can also never possess a handgun outside of these areas without a Handgun Carry Permit. One exception is inside your car, which as of July 1, 2015 you are now allowed to store any loaded or unloaded firearm. It is permissible to openly carry rifles and shotguns outside these areas as long as they are unloaded (no ammunition in chamber, in magazine, and no magazine is in immediate vicinity of weapon), except you may not do so at the following locations: any judicial proceeding; any school property; any public park, playground, or other public recreational building or grounds; or any property where proper notice is displayed that firearm possession is prohibited. Federal law also prohibits any firearm on federal property such as post offices as well as airports.
  7. What if I have a Handgun Carry Permit? You are allowed to carry a handgun (open or concealed) in any area but with the same restrictions noted above. However, you may now possess a handgun in a public park unless a school-related activity is occurring in that area. Handgun Carry Permit holder or not, you are never allowed to carry on school property, or in any park, building, or church where a school activity is occurring.

This is not a comprehensive list as there are numerous situations you could find yourself in, such as hunting, sport shooting, or if you are a security or law enforcement officer. For a full list of related laws click HERE to go to the Tennessee Department of Homeland Security’s website.

In addition, there are several statutory defenses to violating some of these provisions. If you have any questions on these topics, or if you have a pending case regarding unlawful possession of a weapon, you should contact an experienced and qualified attorney for advice.