Beginning in the late 1800s, Tennessee strictly regulated carrying handguns, by prohibiting carrying pistols “with intent to go armed” in public places. Exceptions were made for on one’s own property or place of business.
In 1996, Tennessee adopted a handgun carry permit process. Over the years, the law expanded to allow permit holders to carry handguns where alcohol was served and in public parks. In, 2019, a second “concealed only” permit was created. The chief difference being that the new permit did not require passing the state-mandated, in-person class and firing range requirements.
Recently, the legislature amended Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307 to add section (g), click here, creating a new defense to a charge of carrying a handgun with intent to go armed, the so-called “permitless” carry. The amendment is effective July 1, 2021.
First, it is important to understand how Tennessee law on firearm possession works. The easiest way is to focus on your location. What statute applies to this location and what are the defenses?
For example, under Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(a), it is an offense for a person to carry a firearm with intent to go armed. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1308 has defenses, such as when a person is at their place residence. Think about this when reading the amendment.
The new defense is quite broad, covering most persons who may legally possess a handgun, carrying it openly or concealed, and in a place where the person has a right to be. The amendment applies to a person who is at least 21 years old, or at least 18 years old and a current or honorably discharged veteran. However, those with convictions for stalking or driving under the influence may not be able to take advantage of the new amendment. The amendment has other limitations on possession of firearms, covered New Offenses section of this article.
The newly enacted statute modified Tennessee’s so-called “guns in trunks” law, Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-1313. Under this statute, permit holders were allowed to transport, store or possess firearms in vehicles in most public or private parking areas. The newly added language applies to anyone “who lawfully carries a handgun pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(g).”
LIMITATIONS IN THE NEW AMENDMENT
The biggest limitation of the amendment is that it only applies to handguns, not firearms in general. “Handguns” are defined in Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-106(18) as “any firearm with a barrel length of less than twelve inches (12″) that is designed, made or adapted to be fired with one (1) hand.”
The amendment requires that the person is in a place where the person has a right to be. Carrying a handgun through the door of a business marked “Employees Only” may be beyond the scope of the new law.
In Tennessee, a permit is still needed to possess a handgun in a publicly-owned park or greenway. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1311.
The new statute does not do away with the need for a handgun carry permit. A permit is needed to possess a handgun in other states that require a permit and recognize Tennessee’s permit.
The new law did not repeal Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1359(c), so it is still an offense to possess a weapon on property with a properly posted “No Guns” sign. Statutes remain in force regulating or prohibiting weapon possession in buildings where judicial proceedings are in progress, on school property or certain government buildings referred to in Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1359(g). The protections involving parking lots, Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-1313, are still in effect.
ADDITIONAL CRIMES CREATED IN THE AMENDMENT
The amendment adds a new section to Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(h), creating a Class B misdemeanors for carrying a firearm with intent to go armed, if the person has been:
- Convicted of stalking;
- Convicted of driving under the influence once in the last five years or two or more times in ten years;
- Adjudicated as a mental defective, judicially committed to or hospitalized in a mental institution or had a court appoint a conservator by reason of a mental defect; or
- Otherwise prohibited for possessing a firearm by 18 U.S. Code § 922(g) as it existed on January 1, 2021.
Section (C) is interesting. If a person has been adjudicated as a mental defective (which usually includes having a conservator appointed) or judicially committed to a mental hospital, they are completely prohibited from possessing firearms, both by 18 U.S. Code § 922(g) and Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(f).
Section C also adds merely having been “hospitalized in a mental institution” as a crime, if the person possesses a firearm with intent to go armed. This was not a crime under prior law.
Convictions for misdemeanor stalking and DUI do not prohibit possession of firearms. However, the new amendment makes it clear that such convictions do not allow persons convicted of these offenses from taking advantage of the new permitless carry defense.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1308 contains defenses to a charge under § 39-17-1307, if the firearm possession takes place in the person’s own residence, place business or while hunting.
As you can see from just the length of this article, Tennessee firearm laws remain complicated, even more complicated than before. If you have questions regarding such laws, or restoration of your firearm rights, contact James E. Wagner at 865-546-9321.
James E. Wagner concentrates his practice in areas such as personal injury litigation, workers’ compensation, toxic tort litigation, products liability, firearms law, probate, estate planning and insurance. His varied legal experience helps him analyze and resolve issues in all areas of practice for his clients. He has been privileged to represent many of the same clients over my entire career and handles each case with a view toward a long-term relationship. James provides his clients with reliable, dependable service.