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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- 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).
- See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-315.
- 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).
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 38-6-109(f).