Tennessee has a broad statute preempting most local gun safety laws. This law states:
“[T]he general assembly preempts the whole field of the regulation of firearms, ammunition, or components of firearms or ammunition, or combinations thereof including, but not limited to, the use, purchase, transfer, taxation, manufacture, ownership, possession, carrying, sale, acquisition, gift, devise, licensing, registration, storage, and transportation thereof, to the exclusion of all county, city, town, municipality, or metropolitan government law, ordinances, resolutions, enactments or regulation. No county, city, town, municipality, or metropolitan government nor any local agency, department, or official shall occupy any part of the field regulation of firearms, ammunition or components of firearms or ammunition, or combinations thereof.”1
Newly enacted state legislation in 2021 also generally prohibits local governments in Tennessee from creating or maintaining gun owner registries, as defined.2
Tennessee law authorizes parties to file civil suits against state and local governments or local government agencies, departments, or officials if they are adversely affected by an ordinance, resolution, policy, rule, or other enactment that is adopted or enforced in violation of the state’s preemption law, or by the defendant’s creation or maintenance of a gun owner registry in violation of Tennessee’s relevant law.3 The adversely affected party may seek declaratory and injunctive relief as well as damages, and state law provides that prevailing plaintiffs in these actions are also entitled to court costs and attorney’s fees.4
Tennessee law provides some exceptions to the preemption statute above.5 These exceptions generally allow for local regulation of:
- The carrying of firearms by local government employees or independent contractors when acting in the course and scope of their employment or contract;
- The discharge of firearms within the limits of the city, county, town municipality or metropolitan government;
- The location of shooting ranges; and
- The enforcement of state or federal firearm and ammunition laws.
Local governments may generally prohibit the possession of weapons at meetings conducted by, or on property owned, operated, managed or under the control of the government entity, if in compliance with specific signage requirements.6 In order to restrict possession of a handgun by any person with a Tennessee handgun carry permit on local government property, local governments must generally ensure certain security measures are in place, including metal detectors and security officers.7. These security requirements do not apply to specified public buildings, however, including schools, colleges or universities, libraries, licensed mental health and substance abuse facilities, law enforcement agency buildings, and courtrooms.8
As of the date this page was last updated, Giffords Law Center is not aware of any significant cases interpreting Tennessee’s preemption statutes.
However, the Tennessee Attorney General has addressed whether local governments may prohibit the possession of handguns or long guns on publicly owned property.9 Reviewing the provisions of both Tennessee Code Annotated sections 39-17-1314(a) and 39-17-1359, the Attorney General opined that although section 39-17-1314(a) precludes local government entities from regulating firearm possession, localities do have the authority to regulate the possession of firearms – both handguns and long guns – on property owned or controlled by a local government.10 The Attorney General has also opined that while municipal regulations are permitted under Tenn. Code Ann. § 57-5-106 to regulate the sale of beer via a permit process, a local jurisdiction cannot use this process to restrict a person from possessing a firearm on the premises of an establishment with a permit to sell beer, as section 39-17-1314(a) prohibits such regulation.11
Other Statutory Provisions
Tennessee law prohibits local governments from regulating the possession, transportation or storage of a firearm or firearm ammunition by a handgun carry permit holder in such person’s vehicle while utilizing public or private parking areas.12
Finally, Tennessee law prohibits local municipalities from enforcing an ordinance that prohibits discharging a firearm within the local municipality in instances where it can be shown that the firearm was discharged for purposes of self-defense or to otherwise prevent the commission of a crime:13
- (a) A person shall not be charged with or convicted of a violation under this part if the person possessed, displayed or employed a handgun in justifiable self-defense or in justifiable defense of another during the commission of a crime in which that person or the other person defended was a victim.
- (b) A person who discharges a firearm within the geographical limits of a municipality shall not be deemed to have violated any ordinance in effect or be subject to any citation or fine the municipality may impose for discharging a firearm within the limits of the municipality if it is determined that when the firearm was discharged the person was acting in justifiable self-defense, defense of property, defense of another, or to prevent a criminal offense from occurring.
For state laws prohibiting the filing of certain types of lawsuits against the gun industry and shooting ranges, see our page on Immunity Statutes in Tennessee.
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- Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1314(a) .[↩]
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1367(b).[↩]
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-17-1314(g) – (i).[↩]
- Local regulation is permitted where explicitly provided by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1314(b) or other state laws. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1314(a).[↩]
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1359(a), (b), (g).[↩]
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1359(g)(1[↩]
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1359(g)(2).[↩]
- Op. Att’y Gen. 04-020, 2004 Tenn. AG LEXIS 20 (Feb. 9, 2004).[↩]
- Opinion No. 04-020, at *1-*2, *6.[↩]
- Op. Att’y Gen. 09-118, 2009 Tenn. AG LEXIS 154 (June 12, 2009).[↩]
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1313(a).[↩]
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1322(b).[↩]