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Federal law requires federally licensed firearm dealers (but not private sellers) to initiate a background check on the purchaser prior to sale of a firearm. Federal law provides states with the option of serving as a state “point of contact” and conducting their own background checks using state, as well as federal, records and databases, or having the checks performed by the FBI using only the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database. (Note that state files are not always included in the federal database.)

Tennessee is a point of contact state for firearm purchaser background checks. In Tennessee, firearms dealers must initiate the background check required by federal law by contacting the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (“TBI”). TBI enforces the federal purchaser prohibitions referenced above.1

Any person appropriately licensed by the federal government may stock and sell firearms to any potential purchaser not ineligible to receive firearms because such recipient has been convicted of stalking,2 is addicted to alcohol, is prohibited under the prohibited categories of federal law3 or has a firearm prohibiting mental health history.4

Before delivering any firearm to a purchaser, a firearms dealer must:

  • Receive from the prospective purchaser current identification;5
  • Complete a firearm transaction record as required by federal law and obtain the signature of the purchaser on the record;
  • Request that TBI conduct a criminal history record check on the purchaser, providing the following information to TBI:
    • The federal firearms license number of the dealer;
    • The business name of the dealer;
    • The place of transfer;
    • The name of the person making the transfer;
    • The make, model, caliber and manufacturer’s number of the firearm being transferred;
    • The name, gender, race, and date of birth of the purchaser;
    • The social security number of the purchaser, if one has been assigned; and
    • The type, issuer and identification number of the identification presented by the purchaser; and
  • Receive a unique approval number for the transfer from TBI and record this number on the firearm transaction record.6

TBI may require that the dealer verify the identification of the purchaser if that identity is in question by sending thumbprints of the purchaser to TBI.7

Firearm transfers will be denied if TBI finds that the potential purchaser has been charged with a crime for which a conviction would cause that purchaser to be prohibited under state or federal law from purchasing, receiving, or possessing a firearm, and a final disposition of the case has not occurred or is not recorded.8 However, if TBI has received written notice, signed and verified by the clerk of the court or the clerk’s designee, that indicates that no final disposition information is available, TBI must immediately reverse a denial and allow the sale to proceed.9 Alternatively, if the purchaser challenges a denial, TBI must proceed with efforts to obtain the final disposition information, and the purchaser may assist. If neither the purchaser nor TBI is able to obtain the final disposition information within 15 days, TBI must immediately notify the dealer that the transaction that was initially denied is now a “conditional proceed.” A “conditional proceed” means that the dealer may lawfully transfer the firearm to the purchaser.10

Tennessee law also requires the instant check unit of TBI to contact the relevant agency within one day if a person that is subject to a protective order entered into the Tennessee crime information center attempts to purchase a firearm.11

Under Tennessee law, if a person who has been prohibited from possessing firearms for mental health reasons attempts to purchase a firearm, and the instant check unit of the Tennessee bureau of investigation confirms the person’s record, the unit shall contact, within twenty-four hours, the chief law enforcement officer of the jurisdiction where the attempted purchase occurred for the purpose of initiating an investigation into a possible violation of law.12

Sellers of firearms who are not federally licensed dealers are not required to conduct background checks on purchasers in Tennessee. See our Universal Background Checks policy summary.


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  1. ATF, “Permanent Brady State Lists,” accessed October 8, 2020, See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 38-6-109 and 39-17-1316 for greater detail on TBI’s processing of criminal background checks.[]
  2. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-315.[]
  3. See 18 U.S.C. § 922.[]
  4. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1316(a)(1).[]
  5. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1316(f).[]
  6. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1316(c).[]
  7. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1316(g).[]
  8. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1316(n).[]
  9. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1316(p).[]
  10. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1316(o).[]
  11. Tenn. Code Ann. § 38-6-109(e).[]
  12. Tenn. Code Ann. § 38-6-109(f).[]