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Gun rights and the Right to Carry in Tennessee

There are over 500,000 active handgun carry permits in the state of Tennessee. That means that about 1 in 13 people has a permit to carry a handgun. Whether you have yours, are thinking about getting yours, or just wonder if the guy at the next table might be breaking the law, there are rules in Tennessee regarding who can carry, how they can carry, and most importantly, WHERE they can carry. I will discuss Tennessee gun laws as they relate to carrying guns and clearing up some misconceptions about the carrying process.

To start I will focus on who can OWN a firearm in Tennessee, then who can CARRY those guns.

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Let's start simply- In Tennessee, you must be 18 to purchase a rifle or shotgun, or the ammunition for those, and 21 to buy a handgun or handgun ammunition.

Federal law bans certain groups of people from owning firearms altogether. They cannot buy them, buy ammunition for them, hunt with them, store them for other people, and certainly not carry them around.

The most obvious group is felons. Except for certain groups of white-collar crimes, committing a felony bars you from owning a firearm under federal law. A felony is any crime where sentence is for more than one year. Theft under <$500, a misdemeanor in Tennessee, has a maximum sentence of 11 months and 29 days- under one year, so the person doesn't lose their gun rights. Failure to appear in court for that same misdemeanor theft, however, is an E Felony, and will cost you your gun rights. Even if you haven't been convicted of the felony yet, if you are indicted, you can't buy a gun during that indictment. Tennessee bans gun ownership by anyone who has been convicted of a felony involving use of force, violence, a weapon, or that involved drugs. Tennessee bans handgun possession by all felons.

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The next fairly obvious groups are fugitives from justice and illegal aliens. Others include those who renounce their U.S. citizenship or have been dishonorably discharged from the military.

Other groups that require more examination are those who have been adjudicated mental defective or have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution.

Also, those who unlawfully use or are addicted controlled substances (even marijuana) are barred from owning guns. These classifications are more difficult to enforce because they require a level of voluntary disclosure; courts in at least one state have found that possessing a medical marijuana card is enough to deny a gun sale.

The most common groups aside from felons are those who are under a restraining order from the courts for "harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate parter" or their children and those convicted of crimes of domestic violence. Anyone who has plead or been found guilty of a crime involving domestic violence is barred from gun ownership. While the statute only bars those who have been found guilty of misdemeanor domestic violence from owning a gun, the Supreme Court of the United States decided in U.S. v. Castleman and U.S. v. Hayes that even if the crime was not one of domestic physical violence or the crime was plead down to the lesser included assault, the domestic aspect was the important part and barred gun ownership.

To recap, those who are banned from owning guns are, generally:

  • Felons
  • Fugitives
  • Illegal Aliens
  • People who have renounced U.S. citizenship
  • Dishonorably discharged former military
  • Mentally defective
  • Those under a restraining order
  • Anyone found guilty of a crime of domestic violence

These disabilities can be cured in some cases if the guilty finding is expunged, pardoned, or if the person has had their civil rights restored by the courts.

So you have your gun and now you want to go out in public.

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Guns in the home are great for self-defense, but few people spend 24 hours a day there. Many people choose to carry a firearm with them for self-defense in public.

Tennessee recently passed a law allowing carry in the vehicle without a permit, meaning that a person that can legally own a gun at home can carry in their car. This also means that if you want to transport the gun on public property from your vehicle to anywhere else, you must either have a permit or unload it. Unloaded for transport generally means that the gun itself is unloaded and the ammunition is in a different compartment of the car or carried in such a way that the gun is not easily loaded.

Tennessee is referred to as a "shall-issue" state for handgun carry permits. Anyone who passes the requisite class, passes the background check, and pays the necessary fees may receive a permit to carry their gun in public. Unlike some states, Tennessee has only one carry permit which allows carry either concealed (in a holster outside public view) or open (in a holster where anyone can see it).

So... Where can I go?

There are certain places that the state has determined are too sensitive to allow people to carry firearms. These are places like court houses, civic centers, public recreational buildings, government buildings, voting centers, etc. Schools and universities are generally off-limits except for people just driving through to pick-up or drop-off. Check the state law for whether the place you want to carry has banned it.

There are a few conditional carry locations in the state as well.

Permit holders can carry in public parks so long as the local government has not posted the park as gun free.

Tennessee also allows carry in restaurants and bars that serve alcohol SO LONG AS that location has not posted banning firearms. The sign does not have to be complicated, a simple handgun with the line through it is enough if it is on the entrance. Likewise, carrying while under the influence of any alcohol or drugs is illegal.

Feel free to carry here:

  • Home
  • Car
  • Restaurants (that have not posted a sign)
  • Stores
  • Church
  • To work (so long as it isn't banned or a sensitive place)
  • Parks (unless posted)

When you should leave it at home or lock it up in the car:

  • Government buildings (court houses, polling places, etc.)
  • Schools and Universities (unless just passing through the parking lot)
  • Any property where it is posted that guns are banned.

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Remember, too, that property owners have rights in their property and can ask you not to carry. It is the duty of carriers to respect the rights of those property owners.

Finally, despite old commentary to the contrary, there is no "right to travel" or "taking a trip" with a loaded gun without a permit. Just because you are 50/75/100 miles from home doesn't mean that the permit laws are relaxed. You are responsible for knowing the gun laws of the states to which you travel and also whether your carry permit is valid in the other state.

Gun rights are an important part of U.S. and Tennessee history and respecting laws and boundaries are an important part of not just following the law, but keeping those who carry in good favor so that the rights open up even more.

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