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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 Criminal Convictions

back to topIf the abuser has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony, can s/he keep or buy a gun?

No.  Under federal law and Tennessee state law, if the abuser has been convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor, s/he cannot have or buy a gun.*  If you're not sure if the abuser has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, see What crimes are considered domestic violence misdemeanors?

In addition, if the abuser has been convicted of the crime of stalking, s/he cannot have or buy a gun, according to Tennessee state law.  Stalking is defined as repeated harassment of an individual that would cause a reasonable person to feel frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or terrorized, and actually does make the person feel that way.*1

Note: If a police officer believes that a crime of domestic violence has taken place, the officer can take all weapons (including guns) that the abuser used or threatened to use against you.  The officer may also take any weapons that are in plain view at the scene of the crime.*2  The weapons will be returned to the abuser if the police find that no crime has been committed.

Also, if someone is sentenced to probation, a court can order that s/he cannot have a gun as a condition of his/her probation.*3  A court can also forbid someone to have a gun as a condition of release with bail, if s/he abuser is arrested for violating a protection order or various other crimes.*4

* 18 USC § 922(g)(9); T.C.A. § 39-17-1350(a)
*1 T.C.A. § 39-17-315
*2 T.C.A. § 36-3-620 (a)(1)
*3 T.C.A. § 40-35-303(d)(6)
*4 T.C.A. § 40-11-150

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back to topWhat crimes are considered domestic violence misdemeanors?

Throughout these gun law pages, we will refer to the fact that it is illegal to carry a gun if a person has been convicted of a "domestic violence misdemeanor."  Basically, if the abuser is/was a family or household member and was charged with a misdemeanor because s/he abused you, s/he could have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor.

Here are the steps you can take to figure out if the abuser was convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor:

Step 1: You first need to know if the abuser was convicted of a misdemeanor crime either in state court or in federal court.*  A misdemeanor may have different definitions in each state but basically, it is a lesser crime than a felony.  If you are unsure if the abuser was convicted of a misdemeanor, you can call the district attorney or prosecutor who handled the criminal case and ask him/her or go to the local criminal courthouse and try to do a search of his convictions.

Step 2: The next step is that you need to figure out if the crime involved either the use or attempted use of physical violence or force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon.*  Again, if you are unsure, you might want to call the prosecutor who handled the case.

Step 3
: The abuser must be either:

  • your current or former spouse;
  • your parent or guardian;
  • a person who you have a child in common with; or
  • a person who is like a spouse, parent or guardian to you (whether or not you live/d with him/her). For example, this might be a long-term boyfriend or someone you share an intimate, personal relationship with.*
If all three of these steps apply to your situation, it is likely that the abuser was convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor.

Note: The crime may not have to specifically mention "domestic violence" in order for it to be considered a domestic violence misdemeanor, and for the federal firearm law to apply.**  The relationship that the victim has with the offender could determine whether or not the misdemeanor is a "domestic violence misdemeanor."  For example: If Bob is convicted of a misdemeanor assault against his wife, it is illegal for him to buy or have a gun.  If Bob is convicted of a misdemeanor assault against his neighbor, he may still be able to have or buy a gun.

For more information, or if you are still confused, you might want to contact the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit at 1-800-903-0111, ext. 2.

* 18 USC § 921(a)(33)(A); see Buster v. United States, 447 F.3d 1130 (8th Cir. 2006) for discussion of defining "as a spouse."
** See United States v. Hayes, 555 U.S. 415, 129 S.Ct. 1079 (2009)


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back to topWhat is the definition of a felony?

A felony under federal law is a crime that is punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year.*

* 18 USC § 227(A)

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back to topHow can I find out if the abuser has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony?

Domestic violence misdemeanor and felony records are open to the public, but they are not always easy to access.  If you know the exact courthouse where the abuser may have been convicted, you can go to the courthouse and ask the clerk of court for access to those records.

Domestic violence misdemeanor and felony records are also kept in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). However, no one other than law enforcement officials and licensed firearm sellers are allowed to search the NICS.  Your local police department may be willing to search NICS for you if you ask, but they are not required to do so.

To read more about the NICS, please see, What will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

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back to topIf a law enforcement officer or other government employee is convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony, can s/he have or buy a gun?

No.   Law enforcement officers and other government officials who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony cannot have or buy guns for any purpose, including their official duties, according to federal law.*

*18 USC § 925(a)(1); T.C.A. § 39-17-1350(a)

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