What are the Gun Laws in Tennessee?

A Synopsis of State Laws on Purchase, Possession and Carrying of Firearms

Gunsmiths At Work
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State Requirements

Rifles and Shotguns
  • Permit to purchase rifles and shotguns? No.
  • Registration of rifles and shotguns? No.
  • Licensing of owners of rifles and shotguns? No.
  • Permit to carry rifles and shotguns? No.
Handguns
  • Permit to purchase handgun? No.
  • Registration of handguns? No.
  • Licensing of owners of handguns? No.
  • Permit to carry handguns? Yes.
Caution: This summary is meant for general purposes only. Firearm laws frequently change.

Purchase

Subject to some exceptions, it is unlawful to sell or transfer a handgun to any person who is intoxicated or who is prohibited from gun ownership under the law.


While a permit is not required to purchase a firearm, any person wanting to obtain a handgun must present the licensed dealer with current identification and other information, including make, model, caliber and manufacturer’s number of the firearm being transferred, so that the dealer can fill out the forms for a background check.

The dealer shall complete a firearms transaction record and obtain the signature of the purchaser on the record.

The dealer shall also obtain a thumbprint of the purchaser.

The dealer shall request by telephone that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation conduct a criminal history record check on the purchaser.

The dealer shall be notified by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation if the purchaser is disqualified from completing the transfer or provide the dealer with a unique approval number.

The Tennessee Bureau of investigation may charge a fee of up to $10.00 for conducting the background check.


The background check does not apply to:
  • Transactions between licensed manufacturers, importers, dealers, or collectors who certify prior to transfer the legal and licensed status of both parties.

  • Transactions between licensed manufacturers, importers, dealers, and a law enforcement agency or the agency’s personnel.

  • The burden falls upon the transferor to determine the legality of the transaction in progress.
The background check does not apply to any person eligible to purchase a firearm who wishes to make an occasional sale of a used or secondhand firearm legally purchased by the seller.

It is unlawful for any person to sell, loan or give a firearm to a minor.

It is a defense to providing a firearm to a minor if the person providing the firearm is not a dealer and the firearm was loaned or given for the purposes of hunting, trapping, fishing, camping, sport shooting, or other lawful sporting activity.

Possession

There is no state permit requirement for the possession of rifles, shotguns, or handguns.

It is unlawful to possess a handgun for persons:
  • Who have been convicted of a felony involving the use or attempted use of force, violence or a deadly weapon.

  • Who have been convicted of a felony drug offense.

  • Who are under 18.
It is a defense for a juvenile possessing a handgun if the person is attending:
  • A hunter/firearms safety course.

  • Practicing or target shooting at an authorized, established range where the discharge of a firearm is not prohibited.

  • Participating in an organized competition or practicing for an firearms event.

  • Is accompanied by the minor’s parent or guardian and instructed in proper handgun use.

  • On real property under control of an adult and has permission from the minor’s legal guardian.

  • At the juvenile’s residence and with the permission of the juvenile’s parent or legal guardian, possesses a handgun and is justified in using physical force or deadly force.

  • Has a valid hunting or trapping license.

  • Or is traveling to or from a lawful activity with an unloaded1 handgun.
It is unlawful for a person to possess a handgun while under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance regardless of whether he or she has a lawful permit to carry the handgun.

Carrying

It is unlawful for any person to carry "with the intent to go armed" a firearm, knife with a blade length exceeding four inches, or a club. The burden is on the state to show an "intent to go armed."

It is a defense to unlawful carrying if the possession or carrying was:
  • Of an unloaded rifle, shotgun or handgun not concealed on or about the person and the ammunition for the weapon was not in the immediate vicinity of the person or weapon.

  • By a person authorized by written directive and permit to carry handguns.

  • At the person’s place of residence, place of business or premises.

  • Incident to lawful hunting, trapping, fishing, camping, sport shooting or other lawful activity.

  • By a person possessing a rifle or shotgun while engaged in the lawful protection of livestock from predatory animals.

  • By a Tennessee Valley Authority officer who holds a valid commission from the Commissioner of Safety while such officer is in the performance of the officer’s official duties.

  • By a state, county or municipal judge or any federal judge or magistrate.

  • By an out-of-state, full-time, commissioned law enforcement officer who holds a valid commission card and photo identification from a state with a reciprocal agreement for law enforcement from Tennessee to carry in their state.

    Carrying by law enforcement is prohibited without the commission card, the ID, and the reciprocal agreement.

A person will not be charged or convicted if the person possessed, displayed, or employed a handgun in justifiable self-defense or defense of another during the commission of a crime in which that person or other person defended was a victim.

The Department of Safety shall issue a permit to carry a handgun for a period of 4 years to a person who pays a fee of $115.

A person wishing to carry a handgun shall apply to the Department of Safety at any location where the department conducts driver license examinations.



The applicant must be a resident of Tennessee and reached 21 years of age.

The sheriff may charge a fee not to exceed five dollars ($5.00) for taking the applicant’s fingerprints. The department is required to take fingerprints and a photograph of the applicant.

The applicant shall submit proof of successful completion of a handgun safety course.

The department shall notify the Sheriff of the applicant’s county of residence in order to conduct a background investigation.

The department shall issue a license to a qualified applicant within 90 days of the date the Department receives the application.

An applicant shall provide their full legal name and aliases, addresses for five years, date of birth, Social Security Number and physical description on the application.

The application shall require the applicant to disclose and confirm, under oath, that the applicant:

  • Is not prohibited by state or federal law from purchasing or possessing a firearm.

  • Has not been convicted of an offense punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year (not including anti-trust violations, unfair trade practices, or similar offenses related to business practices).

  • Is not subject to an order of protection prohibiting the applicant from carrying or possessing a firearm.

  • Is not a fugitive from justice.

  • Is not an unlawful user of or addicted to alcohol or any controlled substance.

  • Has not been a patient in a rehabilitation program or hospitalized for alcohol or controlled substance abuse or addiction within 10 years from the date of application.

  • Has not been convicted of the offense of driving under the influence of an intoxicant in this or any state two or more times within 10 years from the date of application and that none of such convictions has occurred within five years from the date of application or renewal.

  • Has not been adjudicated as a mental defective.

  • Has not been committed to or hospitalized in a mental institution.

  • Has not had a court appoint a conservator for the applicant by reason of a mental defect.

  • Has not been judicially determined to be disabled by reason of mental illness, developmental disability or other mental incapacity.

  • Has not, within seven (7) years from the date of application, been found by a court to pose an immediate substantial likelihood of serious harm because of mental illness.

  • Is not an illegal alien.

  • Has been convicted of domestic violence.
The following shall not be grounds for a license denial:
  • Any expunged records.

  • A conviction set aside.

  • A conviction for which civil rights have been restored, unless the conviction was for burglary, any felony offense involving violence or use of a firearm or any felony drug conviction involving a Schedule I, II, III, IV or V controlled substance, or a felony drug conviction involving Schedule VI controlled substance which occurred within ten years of the date of the license application.
The renewal fee is $50. An additional handgun safety course is not required to renew a license. A permit holder has sixty days of any change of address to notify the department in writing of the permit holder’s new address.

A valid handgun permit or license issued in another state shall be valid in this state according to its terms if the person carries a handgun only and the person is in possession of the permit at all times while carrying the handgun.

The commissioner of safety shall enter into written reciprocity agreements and publish and make available the list of states honoring and not honoring Tennessee permits.

If another state imposes conditions on Tennessee permit holders in a reciprocity agreement, such conditions shall also become a part of the agreement and apply to the other state’s permit holders when they carry a handgun in this state.

If a person with a handgun permit from another state decides to become a resident of Tennessee, such person must obtain a Tennessee handgun permit within six months of establishing residency in Tennessee.

Machine Guns And Antique Firearms

Firearm means any weapon designed, made or adapted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or any device readily convertible to that use, including handguns, long guns, and all other weapons which meet the definition except "Antique Firearms" as defined by Federal law.

A machine gun is defined as any firearm that is capable of shooting more than two (2) shots automatically without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.

It is unlawful for any person to intentionally or knowingly manufacture, transport, possess, sell or repair a machine gun.

Defenses exempt the following:
  • Performance of official duty for law enforcement or military.

  • Activity reasonably related to lawful dramatic performance or scientific research.

  • Display in a public museum or exhibition.

  • When licensed by the State of Tennessee as a manufacturer, importer or dealer in weapons.

  • Acquisition or possession by a person validly registered under the national firearms registration and transfer records.

Miscellaneous

  • It is an offense while committing or attempting to commit a crime of violence to possess or use restricted ammunition, defined as "any cartridge containing a bullet coated with a plastic substance with other than a lead or lead alloy core or a jacketed bullet with other than a lead or lead alloy core or a cartridge of which the bullet itself is wholly composed of a metal or metal alloy other than lead."

  • Restricted ammunition does not include shotgun shells or solid plastic bullets.

  • It is a felony for any person or corporation to manufacture, sell, offer to sell, display for sale or use in this state any ammunition cartridge, metallic or otherwise, containing a bullet with a hollow-nose cavity which is filled with an explosive material and designed to detonate upon impact.

  • It is unlawful to possess a firearm on the premises of a public place where alcoholic beverages are served.

    This prohibition does not apply to a person’s own (or controlled) premises or to their employees or agents responsible for protecting persons or property.

  • It is unlawful to carry a firearm into a judicial proceeding.

  • It is unlawful to possess or carry any firearm, with the intent to go armed, onto any school or college facility or grounds (to include a bus), unless used for instructional or sanctioned ceremonial purposes.

    This prohibition does not apply to military, law enforcement, penal personnel, pupils who are members of Reserve Officers Training Corps, pupils enrolled in a course of instruction or members of a club or team required to carry guns, or campus police officers while in the performance of their official duties.

  • It is an affirmative defense if carrying on school or college facilities was incident to lawful and authorized hunting, was of an unloaded hunting weapon while traveling to the hunting facilities, was while conducting or attending an approved gun show, or while entering the property for the sole purpose of delivering or picking up passengers.

  • The same prohibitions and exceptions generally apply to carrying and possession in public parks, playgrounds, civic centers and other public recreational buildings and grounds.

  • It is unlawful for any person over the age of eighteen, including parent or guardian, to know that a minor or student is in illegal possession of a firearm in or upon the premises of a public or private school, school’s athletic stadium, or other facility or building where school sponsored athletic events are conducted, or public park, playground or civic center, and such person, parent or guardian fails to prevent such possession or fails to report it to the appropriate school or law enforcement officials.

  • It is unlawful to carry a weapon into a meeting where the owner has posted prominent signs at all entrances banning weapon possession.

  • It is a misdemeanor for any person hunting big game with a bow and arrow to be in possession of any firearms or be accompanied in hunting by any person possessing firearms during the archery-only deer season.

  • Local regulations of firearms and ammunition are preempted by state regulation for all local ordinances not lawfully enacted prior to April 8, 1986.

  • The lawful design, marketing, manufacture and sale of firearms do not constitute a nuisance and many such lawsuits against gun manufacturers, trade associations and dealers are reserved only to the state.
    Note: A handgun is unloaded if:

    There is not a cartridge in the chamber of the handgun.

    There is not a cartridge in the cylinder of the handgun if the handgun is a revolver, or the handgun and the ammunition for such handgun, are not carried on the minor, or are not in such close proximity that the minor could readily gain access to the handgun and ammunition and load the handgun. Otherwise, a firearm is unloaded if there is no ammunition in the chamber, clip or magazine, and no clip or magazine is in the immediate vicinity of the firearm.