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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 a felony involving the use or attempted use of force, 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
  • Possessing a firearm while subject to an order of protection;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 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 any person from selling a firearm to any person:

  • convicted of stalking;9
  • addicted to alcohol
  • ineligible to receive a firearm under federal law
  • 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
  • involuntarily hospitalized or committed to a mental health or substance abuse treatment facility by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority.10

Under Tennessee law, if a person who is ineligible to possess 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.11

For information on the background check process used to enforce these prohibitions, see the Tennessee Background Check Procedures section.


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  1. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(b)(1)(A).[]
  2. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(b)(1)(B).[]
  3. 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).[]
  4. 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).[]
  5. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1321(a).[]
  6. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(f)(1)(C).[]
  7. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(c).[]
  8. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1319(b), (a)(2).[]
  9. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-315.[]
  10. 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 aboveTenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1316(a)(1).[]
  11. Tenn. Code Ann. § 38-6-109(f).[]