Did you know?
Tennessee has some of the weakest gun laws in the nation, but you might be surprised at just how lax they are and how many gaping loopholes exist.
Not So Fun Facts About Gun Laws in Tennessee
Under current Tennessee law, background checks are not required for all gun sales.
Firearm purchased from a licensed dealer (sometimes referred to as an FFL, or someone with a Federal Firearms License) such as a gun store, pawn shop, or licensed vendor at a gun show do require a background check. However, gun sales between non-licensed gun sellers at a gun show or people who connect through an online marketplace do not require a background check. This is often referred to as “the gun show loophole.”
Despite bi-partisan support from Tennesseans, legislation to expand background checks and close the gunshow loophole has been sponsored multiple times in recent years, but has never advanced out of committee.
Under current Tennessee law, a person who suspects their loved one is considering hurting themselves or someone else, is unable to take any legal action to temporarily remove their firearms until the mental health crisis has passed.
Family members related to the Chattanooga mass shooter, the Brunette Chapel mass shooter, and most recently the Covenant School mass shooter, were all concerned about their loved one’s state of mind and the guns they owned. With no mechanism for intervention, they were unable to take steps to prevent a horrific mass shooting.
Despite bi-partisan support from Tennesseans, Extreme Risk Protection (ERPO) legislation to provide families with the ability to intervene and prevent tragedies has been sponsored multiple times in recent years, but has never advanced out of committee.
Under current Tennessee law, even if an individual is prohibited from possessing a gun in another state, they can legally possess in Tennessee.
The Waffle House shooter was legally prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms in his home state of Illinois. He breached a secured area on White House grounds and subsequently, the state of Illinois revoked his Firearm Owner Identification (FOID) card. As a result of that revocation, it was illegal for him to possess a gun in Illinois. Local law enforcement allowed his father to take possession of his guns. Before the shooter moved to Tennessee, his father returned the guns to him. With the guns in his possession, the shooter was in violation of the law in in Illinois, but as soon as he crossed the border into Tennessee, he was legally allowed to have those firearms, including the assault rifle he would use to murder four innocent young people.
Under current Tennessee law, it is illegal to give, loan, or transfer a firearm to a person you know to be adjudicated mentally ill (someone who has been involuntarily committed), it is NOT illegal to give, loan, or transfer a firearm to a person you know to be a convicted felon, under an order of protection, or otherwise prohibited from possessing a gun.
Following the Parkland shooting in 2018, Tennessee lawmakers passed a law to prohibited transferring a gun to a person who had been adjudicated mentally ill, but did not extend that prohibition to others who are considered prohibited purchasers. Currently in Tennessee, if you give a gun to a person you know to be a convicted felon, they are breaking the law when the accept the gun, but you are not breaking the law by giving it to them.
Despite the obvious need to close this loophole, legislation to hold individuals accountable for giving, loaning, or transferring a gun to a person who is prohibited from possessing has been sponsored multiple times in recent years, but has never advanced out of committee.
Under current Tennessee law, individuals are not required to undergo any type of permitting process, including undergoing a background check, demonstrating basic firearm proficiency or any knowledge of the state’s firearm laws, before being allowed to carry a gun in public, including in parks, bars and restaurants, or on public transportation.
Despite opposition from law enforcement across the state, in 2018, Tennessee lawmakers passed legislation to create a gun permit that only required applicants to undergo a background check and watch a short online video. Despite even greater opposition from law enforcement across the state, in 2021 Tennessee lawmakers passed legislation that eliminate the requirement to have any kind of gun permit to carry a gun in public and prevents law enforcement from asking anyone they see carrying a gun if they are legally allowed to do so.
Under current Tennessee law, “conditional proceed sales” are allowed.
If during the background check process, the TBI locates a record with outstanding disqualifying charges or charges that are undeterminable as disqualifying, the transaction. Upon an appeal of the denial, TBI will attempt to find disposition information on the charges in order to make a determination of eligibility to purchase a firearm. However, if they are unable to obtain the information within the mandatory 15-day limit, the transaction will be marked as a Conditional Proceed which means that the firearm dealer may lawfully, at his/her discretion, complete the transfer.
Under current Tennessee law, third party dispossession is allowed.
Under state and federal law, anyone convicted of a domestic violence offense is legally required to dispossess any firearms in their possession. In Tennessee, offenders can surrender their firearms to law enforcement, sell them to a licensed firearms dealer, or they may transfer them to a third party. Tennessee is one of only thirteen states that allow third party transfers, but of the thirteen states, Tennessee is the only one that does not require any information, even a name, to be provided about the third party, nor is the third party required to provide any proof that they are legally allowed to possess firearms or even acknowledge that they have agreed to keep the offenders’ guns.
Despite support from law enforcement, domestic violence prevention advocates, and domestic violence judges, legislation to require third parties submit a sworn affidavit to the court that affirms that they can legally possess a firearm and are in possession of the offender’s gun has been sponsored in recent years, but never advanced out of committee.
Under current Tennessee law, it is legal to store a gun in a vehicle as long as the gun is “kept from ordinary observation and locked within the trunk, glove box, or interior of the person’s motor vehicle or a container securely affixed to such motor vehicle if the permit holder is not in the motor vehicle.” But, the legislation did not include any penalty for permit holders who broke the law by not storing their firearm according to the statute.
Because there is no consequence, irresponsible gun owners who break the law by leaving their unsecured guns clearly visible in an unlocked car cannot be prosecuted or held accountable in any way.
Under current Tennessee law, there is no requirement to report lost or stolen guns.
Because of this law, it is impossible to know how many lost or stolen firearms are currently on the streets of our communities.
The TBI currently faces a backlog of roughly 761,000 cases not linked to criminal histories.
This means some prospective gun buyers could potentially have disqualifying charges, but those cases might not show up in the background check system. As a result, unsuspecting licensed gun sellers could be selling guns to violent felons, convicted domestic abusers, and others prohibited from purchasing and possessing firearms.