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Know the Laws: Tennessee

UPDATED November 9, 2016

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WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you get in touch with a domestic violence advocate in your community for more information on gun laws in your area. Go to the TN Where to Find Help page to find help.

Guns and Protection Orders

back to topI have a protection order against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun?

No.  Under federal and Tennessee state law, if you have a protection order that was issued by a state civil court against your abuser and meets federal law requirements, the abuser cannot have a gun in his possession, or buy a new gun.*

In order for your protection order to qualify under federal law, the respondent (person who the order is against) must:

  • Be served (given) notice of the court hearing. In other words, the defendant must have been given paperwork that told him or her about the hearing.
  • Have an opportunity to attend the court hearing.
    • Note: The abuser does not have to be at the hearing, but s/he has to have the opportunity to come to the hearing. ·
  • Be an "intimate partner" of the victim, which includes:
    • A current or former spouse
    • A person with whom you share a child
    • A person you live with or have lived with in the past **

Note: If your protection order has expired, it is no longer a valid order under federal law, which means the firearm ban also does not apply.

Note: This law may not apply to law enforcement officials, military personnel, and other government employees who use guns while performing official duties.***  If the abuser is a police officer, member of the military, or someone else who uses a gun for their job, talk to your local domestic violence program about your options.  See TN State and Local Programs to find a program in your area.

* 18 USC § 922(g)(8); T.C.A. § 39-17-1316(a)(1)
** 18 USC § 921(a)(32)
*** 18 USC § 925(a)(1)

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back to topIs there anything I can do to make it more likely that the abuser's gun is taken away when I get a protection order?

While under federal and Tennessee state law it does not need to be written on your protection order that the abuser cannot buy or have a gun, it may make it easier to get the firearms removed if it is written into the order.

There are a couple steps you can take to help make this clear:

  1. If the abuser has a gun, tell the judge how many guns s/he has, and if he has ever threatened you with a gun(s).
  2. Ask the magistrate to order that the respondent is prohibited from possessing, shipping, receiving or transporting a firearm.
  3. Before leaving the courthouse, check your order to make sure that the firearm prohibitions are included in the order.

It also may be helpful if the judge explains what will happen to the abuser's guns, who will take them, and where they will be held once you leave the courthouse.  If the judge agrees to add language that the abuser cannot keep his/her guns while the protection order is in effect, you may also want to ask that the judge:

  • Require the abuser to give his/her guns to the police, or require the police to go to the abuser's house and get them.
  • Make it clear to both you and the abuser how long the guns will be kept away from the abuser.
  • Order that the police notify you when the guns are returned to the abuser.

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back to topThe abuser did not show up for the protection order hearing. Can his/her gun still be taken away?

Maybe. The abuser does not have to come to the hearing in order for the law to apply to him/her, but s/he does have to be given notice of the hearing and an opportunity to attend.*

If no hearing is scheduled, and/or no notice is given about the protection order, then the federal firearm law might not apply to the abuser. **

* United States v. Bunnell, 106 F. Supp. 2d 60 (D. Me. 2000), aff'd 280 F. 3d 46 (1st Cir. 2002.)
** United States v. Spruill, 292 F. 3d 207 (5th Cir. 2002.)

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back to topI have an ex parte (temporary) order against the abuser. Do I have to wait until I receive a permanent order before the abuser's gun is taken away?

Maybe.  You can ask the Judge to write in your temporary order that the abuser cannot have a gun while you are waiting for a full court hearing.  If the judge sees the abuser's firearm as a serious enough threat, the judge might decide to write this in.

However, if there is no specific mention of a firearm restriction in the temporary order, then you may have to wait until you are given a permanent order.

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