Legal Information: Tennessee

Tennessee State Gun Laws

State Gun Laws

Basic Info and Definitions

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:

  1. has been convicted of a felony involving the use or attempted use of force, violence, or a deadly weapon;
  2. has been convicted of a felony drug crime;
  3. has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence;
  4. is subject to an order of protection that complies with 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8); or
  5. 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:

  1. is under the influence of alcohol or another controlled substance;2
  2. has been convicted of a felony;3 or
  3. 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)

Guns and Protection Orders

I have a protection order against the abuser. Can s/he have or buy a gun?

Under Tennessee state law, if you have a protection order that was issued by a state civil court against the abuser and meets federal law requirements, the abuser cannot have a gun in his/her possession, or buy a new gun.1

In order for your protection order to qualify under federal law, the abuser must:

  • be served notice of the court 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; or
    • a person you live with currently or have lived with in the past.2

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.

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 § 39-17-1316(a)(1)
2 18 USC § 921(a)(32)

Is 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 it does not need to be written on your order that the abuser cannot own, buy, or have a gun in order for the federal law to be enforced, it may make it easier if it is written.

Here are a few things that you may be able to ask for to try to make the firearm prohibition clearer:

  1. If the abuser has a gun, tell the judge how many guns s/he has, and if s/he has ever threatened you with a gun(s).
  2. Ask the judge to write into the order for protection that the defendant cannot own, buy or have a gun while the order is in effect.
  3. Before leaving the courthouse, check to make sure that this is written on your order.
  4. 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 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; and
    • order that the police notify you when the guns are returned to the abuser.

Guns and Criminal Convictions

If the abuser has been convicted of a crime, can s/he have or buy a gun?

Tennessee state law says that a person cannot have or buy a gun if s/he:

  1. has been convicted of a felony involving the use or attempted use of force, violence, or a deadly weapon;
  2. has been convicted of a felony drug crime; or
  3. has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.1

Tennessee law also says that anyone who has been convicted of a felony is prohibited from having a handgun.2

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.3 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.4 A court can also forbid someone to have a gun as a condition of release with bail, if the abuser is arrested for violating a protection order or various other crimes.5

1 TN ST § 39-17-1307(b), (f)
2 TN ST § 39-17-1307(c)
3 TN ST § 36-3-620(a)(1)
4 TN ST § 40-35-303(d)(6)
5 TN ST § 40-11-150(b)(4)

How can I find out if the abuser has been convicted of a crime?

Criminal records are open to the public but they are not always easy to access. If you know the exact courthouse where your 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?

The Abuser Isn't Supposed to Have a Gun...Now what?

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

      More Information and Where to Get Help

      I do not have a protection order against the abuser, and s/he has not been convicted of a crime, is there anything I can do?

      You can still make a plan for your safety. See our Safety Tips page for more information. You can also contact your local domestic violence organization for additional help. See our TN Advocates and Shelters page to find a local domestic violence organization near you.

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

      1 TN ST § 39-17-1316

      I'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 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 contact a local domestic violence organization in your area. See our TN Places that Help page.

      You can write to our Email Hotline.

      WomensLaw serves and supports all survivors, no matter their sex or gender.