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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.

More Information and Where to Get Help

back to topIf the abuser's gun(s) is taken away, what will happen to it?

It depends on how the gun was taken away.  If the abuser's gun is taken away after you file for a protection order against him/her, then the gun may be held either by the sheriff's department or local police department and given back to the abuser when the gun is returned.

If the abuser's gun is taken away after s/he is convicted of a crime, then the gun may be destroyed or re-sold, and not returned to the abuser.

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back to topWho do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun?

If you think the abuser is violating state firearm laws, you can call your local police or sheriff department or the state police.  If you think the abuser is violating federal firearm laws, you can call the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). 

You can find contact information for sheriff departments in your area on our TN Sheriff Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in Tennessee on the ATF website.  For reporting illegal firearm activity, a person can also call 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867).  Many ATF offices have victim advocates on staff (called “victim/witness coordinators”) and so perhaps you may ask to speak one of these advocates if you are having a hard time connecting with (or receiving a call back from) an ATF officer. 

A local domestic violence organization in your area may also be able to answer your questions and assist you in talking to the necessary law enforcement officials. You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our TN State and Local Programs page. 

Note: Generally, the abuser does not have to have knowledge of the law in order to be arrested for breaking the law.  If the abuser has or buys a gun in violation of the law, the abuser can be arrested, whether or not s/he knows that s/he was in violation of the law.* 

United States v. Lippman, 369 F. 3d 1039 (8th Cir. 2004); United States v. Henson, 55 F. Supp. 2d 528 (S.D. W.V. 1999)

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back to topWhat is the penalty for violating the federal firearm law?

Anyone who owns, has or buys a gun in violation of the federal firearm law can be punished by a fine, jail time for up to 10 years, or both. *

* 18 USC § 924(a)(2)

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back to topI do not have a protection order against the abuser, and s/he has not been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony, is there anything I can do?

Under Tennessee state law, if the abuser has been convicted of a crime of stalking, or is addicted to alcohol, s/he cannot buy a gun.*

If none of these situations apply, you can still make a plan for your safety.  See our Staying Safe page for more information.  You can also contact your local domestic violence organization for additional help.  See our TN State and Local Programs page to find a local domestic violence organization near you.

For addition information on gun laws in Tennessee, you can go to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence website.

* T.C.A. § 39-17-1316

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back to topWhat will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

Before purchasing a gun from a licensed firearm dealer, all buyers must undergo a criminal background check that is processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  If the abuser has a qualifying protection order against him/her, or has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor in any state, those records should be in the NICS, which should prevent the abuser from buying a gun.  Not all states have automated record keeping systems, making it more difficult to process the criminal background check, and some criminals and abusers do slip through the system.  Also, it is important to know that background checks are not required for private and online gun sales.  

If the abuser is able to purchase a gun and you believe that s/he should not be able to have one under the law, you can alert the police, and ask that his/her gun be taken away and perhaps the police will investigate.  Generally, it is not a good idea to assume that because the abuser was able to buy a gun, it is legal for him/her to have one.

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back to topThe abuser uses a gun for his/her job. Does the law still apply?

Maybe.  If the abuser is a law enforcement officer, military employee or government employee, then s/he might be able to continue to use their gun for work purposes, but not for personal use.

However, if the abuser has been convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor, then under federal and Tennessee law, the abuser cannot buy nor have a gun, even if s/he is a police officer or a military employee. *

If you are confused or not sure whether your abuser can still use a gun for work purposes, you can talk to a domestic violence advocate in your area or call the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit to find out more information: 1-800-903-0111, ext. 2.

To find a domestic violence advocate in your area, please go to our TN State and Local Programs page.

* 18 USC § 925(a)(1)

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back to topI've read through all of this information, and I am still confused. What can I do?

Trying to understand both federal and state law can be confusing, but there are people out there who can help you better understand the law and your rights under the law.

  • You can also contact the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit to get more information about the federal firearm law and how it applies to you: 1-800-903-0111, ext. 2.
  • You can write to our Email Hotline.
  • You can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area.  See our TN Where to Find Help page.

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