Federal law establishes a baseline national standard regarding individuals’ eligibility to acquire and possess firearms. Under federal law, people are generally prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms if they have been convicted of a felony or some domestic violence misdemeanors, or if they are subject to certain court orders related to domestic violence or a serious mental condition. However, federal law merely provides a floor, and has notable gaps that allow individuals who have demonstrated significant risk factors for violence or self-harm to legally acquire and possess guns.
Tennessee law prohibits the possession of a firearm by any person:
- Convicted of specified felony “crimes of violence,” an attempt to commit a felony crime of violence, any other felony involving the use of a deadly weapon violence or a deadly weapon;1
- Convicted of a felony drug offense;2
- Convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence while remaining subject to the disabilities of such a conviction;3
- Subject to an active order of protection that fully complies with federal law;4
- Under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance (handguns only);5 or
- Prohibited from possessing a firearm under any other provision of federal or state law6
Tennessee also separately generally prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from possessing a handgun.7
Tennessee prohibits juveniles (persons under age 18) from knowingly possessing a handgun.8
In addition, Tennessee prohibits people from selling a firearm to a person who: 9
- is prohibited by state or federal law from owning, possessing, or purchasing a firearm
- has been convicted of stalking;10
- is addicted to alcohol
- is ineligible to receive a firearm under federal law
- has been found by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority to be a danger to self or others, or to lack the mental capacity to contract or manage their own affairs, as a result of their mental condition or illness
- has been involuntarily hospitalized or committed to a mental health or substance abuse treatment facility by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority.11
Under Tennessee law, if a person who is ineligible to possess firearms due to mental health-related adjudications or court orders 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
In 2021, Tennessee created a new law that prohibits certain people from carrying a firearm in public with the intent to go armed but not from possessing firearms on their own property. The following people are prohibited from carrying, but not possessing, firearms:
- A person who has been convicted of misdemeanor stalking;
- A person who has been convicted of the offense of driving under the influence of an intoxicant in this or any other state two or more times within the prior 10 years or one time within the prior five years;
- A person who has been adjudicated as a mental defective, judicially committed to or hospitalized in a mental institution, or had a court appoint a conservator for the person by reason of a mental defect; or
- A person who is otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm by 18 U.S.C. 922(g) as it existed on January 1, 2021.13(These categories of people are prohibited from firearm possession under federal law, however.)
For information on the background check process used to enforce these prohibitions, see the Tennessee Background Check Procedures section.
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- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(b)(1)(A).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(b)(1)(B).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(f)(1)(A). The crime of domestic violence, as applies to this section, is defined under federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(33).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(f)(1)(B). The order of protection must fully comply with federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1321(a).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(f)(1)(C).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(c).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1319(b), (a)(2).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1316.
- See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-315 (Offense of “Stalking, aggravated stalking, and especially aggravated stalking.”
- Tennessee law still uses archaic and offensive terminology borrowed from federal law to prohibit firearm access by individuals who have been “adjudicated as a mental defective,” but federal regulations more specifically define that term as described above. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1316(a)(1).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 38-6-109(f).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(h).