Tennessee laws regarding firearms and restoration of rights for those convicted of felonies has been complicated. The Tennessee legislature has made some things less complicated.

Restoration of Rights

Tennessee differentiates between persons convicted of felonies involving violence or attempts, use of a deadly weapon or drug offenses, and those convicted of other felonies. Under a 2018 change in Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(c), those convicted of the “other felonies” and have had their rights fully restored, may possess firearms.

Under former Tennessee law, those convicted of the “other felonies” could possess rifles and shotguns, but not handguns. However, the distinction was meaningless, because under federal law, if there is any limitation on firearm possession, the person could not possess any firearm. The 2018 change allows a person with a non-violent or non-drug felony to have their firearm rights restored under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-29-101 et seq.

Restoration of firearm rights also makes the person eligible for a handgun carry permit. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1351(j)(3). However, restoration of rights does not apply to those convicted of felonies involving violence or attempts, use of a deadly weapon or drug offenses.

New Definition of “Firearm”

Under Tennessee’s 1989 criminal law overhaul, the term “firearm” meant any weapon that could expel a projectile by the action of an explosive. This meant that under Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307, felons, those convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence or other prohibited persons could not even possess black powder muzzle-loading firearms.

A 2019 amendment to Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-106(a) brings Tennessee in line with the federal definition of “firearms” at 18 U.S. Code § 921(a)(3). Now, both federal and Tennessee statutes do include “antique firearms” in the definition of “firearms.”

What is an “antique firearm”? Under § 39-11-106(a), it is any muzzle loading rifle, muzzle loading shotgun, or muzzle loading pistol, which is designed to use black powder, or a black powder substitute, and which cannot use fixed ammunition, and firearms made in or before 1898.

An “antique firearm” also includes a replica of an antique, but only if it was not designed or redesigned for conventional rimfire or centerfire ammunition, or uses rimfire or centerfire ammunition that is no longer made in the United States and which is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade.

The last part about ammunition “not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade,” may have made sense when Congress adopted it in 1968. Then, such ammunition could be found only in the “as-is” bin in the back of an old hardware story. But now, with the internet and search engines, virtually anything is “readily available” in the “new” ordinary channel of commercial trade.

What does this mean? For those with convictions for any type of felony, misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, subject to an order of protection, or any of the other prohibitions, Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307 no longer prohibits possession of antique firearms.

Tennessee’s firearm and restoration of rights statutes are still unnecessarily complicated. If you need assistance in navigating our laws, please contact me to discuss your situation. In addition to restoration of rights, there may be a way to expunge certain felonies and remove them from public records.