What is the difference between federal and state gun laws?
In these gun laws pages, we refer to both “federal gun laws” and “state gun laws.” The major difference between the two has to do with who makes the law, who prosecutes someone who violates the law, and what the penalty is for breaking the law.
One reason why it is important for you to know that there are these two sets of gun laws is so that you can understand all of the possible ways that the abuser might be breaking the law, and you can better protect yourself. Throughout this section, we will be referring mostly to state laws. Be sure to also read our Federal Gun Laws pages to see if any federal laws apply to your situation as well. You will need to read both state and federal laws to see which ones, if any, the abuser might be violating.
If you are calling the police because you believe the abuser has violated a gun law, you do not necessarily need to be able to tell the police which law was violated (state versus federal) but local police cannot arrest someone for violating federal law, only for violating state/local laws. Only federal law enforcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (“ATF”), can arrest someone for violating federal laws. If the local police believe that a state law is being violated, they could arrest the abuser and hand the case over to the state prosecutor. If the local police believe a federal law is being violated, hopefully, the police department will notify the ATF or perhaps the U.S. Attorney’s office in your state, which is the federal prosecutor. For information on how you can contact ATF directly to report the violation of federal gun laws, go to Who do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun? If the abuser is breaking both state and federal laws, s/he might be prosecuted in both state and federal court.
What is the definition of a felony?
Throughout these gun law pages, we will refer to gun laws that make it illegal for someone convicted of a felony to have a gun. A felony is a more serious crime than a misdemeanor.
In Tennessee, felonies are crimes punishable by one year or more in state prison.1
1 TN ST § 40-35-110
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?
Tennessee state law says that a person cannot have or buy any type of gun if s/he:
- has been convicted of a felony involving the use or attempted use of force, violence, or a deadly weapon;
- has been convicted of a felony drug crime;
- has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence;
- is subject to an order of protection that complies with 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8); or
- is prohibited from having a gun under any other state or federal law.1
Additionally, Tennessee prohibits use or possession of a handgun by anyone that:
- is under the influence of alcohol or another controlled substance;2
- has been convicted of a felony;3 or
- is under the age of 18.4
If any of these situations apply to the abuser, it may be illegal for him/her to have a gun. Also, federal laws, which apply to all states, may restrict an abuser’s right to have a gun. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.
1 TN ST § 39-17-1307(b), (f)
2 TN ST § 39-17-1321(a)
3 TN ST § 39-17-1307(c)
4 TN ST § 39-17-1319(b), (a)(2)