Legal Information: Tennessee

State Gun Laws

Updated: 
November 9, 2021

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

If you have a final protection order against the abuser, the judge can direct the abuser to get rid of all firearms in his/her possession within 48 hours of when the order is issued. The abuser can give them to a third party who is not prohibited from possessing firearms, sell them, or get rid of them in any other legal way. In addition, the order of protection will include language warning the abuser that s/he is prohibited from possessing firearms while the protection order is in effect.1

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.

1 TN ST § 36-3-625(a)(2), (b)(1)
2 TN ST § 36-3-620(a)(1)

Who 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 Advocates and Shelters 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.1

1United States v. Lippman, 369 F. 3d 1039 (8th Cir. 2004); United States v. Henson, 55 F. Supp. 2d 528 (S.D. W.V. 1999)

What is the penalty for violating state firearm laws?

    It is a Class A misdemeanor if someone carries a handgun in a place that is open to the public and one or more people are present. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, a fine up to $2,500, or both.1 A person who carries a firearm commits a Class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a fine up to $50, or both. A second or subsequent violation is a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine up to $500, or both.2 However, if the following three things are true, then these two acts described above are not illegal:

    1. the person is:
      • at least 21 years old; or
      • the person is at between18 and 21 years of age and:
        • is honorably discharged or is a retired veteran of the United States armed forces;
        • is honorably discharged from the army national guard, the army reserve, the navy reserve, the marine corps reserve, the air national guard, the air force reserve, or the coast guard reserve, and has successfully completed a basic training program; or
        • is a member of the United States armed forces on active duty status or is a current member of the army national guard, the army reserve, the navy reserve, the marine corps reserve, the air national guard, the air force reserve, or the coast guard reserve and has successfully completed a basic training program;
    2. the person lawfully possesses the handgun; and
    3. the person is in a place where the law allows him/her to be.3

    A person is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor if s/he:

    • has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 921;
    • is, at the time of the possession, subject to an order of protection that fully complies with 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8); or
    • is prohibited from possessing a firearm under any other state or federal law.4

    Someone who carries a firearm and has been convicted of a felony involving the use or attempted use of force, violence, or a deadly weapon commits a Class B felony, which is punishable by between eight to 30 years in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, or both. Someone who carries a firearm and has been convicted of a felony drug offense commits a Class C felony, which is punishable by between three to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.5

    A person who possesses a handgun and has been convicted of any felony is guilty of a Class E felony, which is punishable by one to six years in prison, a fine of up to $3,000, or both.6

    A person who carries a firearm is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine up to $500, or both, if s/he:

    • has been convicted of stalking;
    • has been convicted of the driving under the influence two or more times within the past ten years or one time within the past five years;
    • has been declared by a court to be a “mental defective” or was committed to or hospitalized in a mental institution by the court, or had a court-appointed conservator due to a mental defect; or
    • is otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm by 8 U.S.C. § 922(g).7

      1 TN ST §§ 39-17-1307(a); 40-35-111(e)(1)
      2 TN ST §§ 39-17-1307(a)(1); 40-35-111(e)(3)
      3 TN ST § 39-17-1307(g)
      4 TN ST § 39-17-1307(f)(1), (f)(4)
      5 TN ST §§ 39-17-1307(b); 40-35-111(a)(2), (a)(3)
      6 TN ST §§ 39-17-1307(c); 40-35-111
      7 TN ST §§ 39-17-1307(h); 40-35-111(e)(3)

      What 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). The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is used by federal firearms licensees (FFLs), such as firearms dealers or pawnbrokers, to instantly determine whether someone is eligible to receive (own, possess, transport) firearms or explosives.1 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 legally 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 and so in those situations, the seller is not looking in the NICS.

      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.

      1National Criminal Justice Reference Service website

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