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Guns in Trunks

Gun thefts have risen steadily for years in Tennessee. At the same time, state lawmakers have eliminated more and more restrictions surrounding gun possession.

How did we get here?

In Tennessee, few gun laws passed in the last decade have been as controversial as “guns in trunks.” And few gun laws have made the public less safe.

The first time the legislation came close to passing was in 2012. The business community was vehemently opposed to the idea. Rep. Debra Maggart, the Republican Caucus Chair and lifetime NRA member with an A rating found herself in the middle of the fight between second amendment rights supporters and business owners who felt their property rights were being usurped. Ultimately, she sided with the business community. The gun lobby's retribution was quick and severe. The NRA spent over $100,000 to primary her, smearing her name and reputation in the process.

The following year, with Maggart out of the way and other lawmakers aware of what could happen to them if they voted the wrong way, the first version of the “guns in trunks” law was passed in 2013. (Click here to see who sponsored, co-sponsored, and voted for the bill.)  It pertained only to permit holders, and the legislation included specific language mandating how the firearms were to be stored in motor vehicles, noting that they should be “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.  (TCA 39-17-1313 (a)(2)(B))

In 2014, legislation was passed to expand “guns in trunks” to include anyone in legal possession of a firearm, not only permit holders. (Click here to see who sponsored, co-sponsored, and voted for the bill). However, the 2014 legislation did not include specific language that specified how firearms in vehicles were to be stored.  (TCA 39-17-1307 (e)(1)(A))

Since passage of these bills, gun thefts from vehicles have skyrocketed across the state.

Total Gun Thefts from Vehicles in Tennessee:

2019: 3,788

2020: 4,399

2021: 4,868

2022: 5,347

Source: TBI Firearms Stolen from Vehicles by County, using most recent data provided by TBI
Click here to see reports for each year, including county-specific numbers

According to a recently published study from Everytown for Gun Safety, Memphis and Chattanooga have the highest rates of guns stolen from vehicles in the entire nation. Jackson and Nashville rank 14th and 15th, respectively.

Gun permit classes include training on the importance of safe storage, including securing guns in locked vehicles. However, since passage of Gov. Lee's Permitless Carry law in 2021, permit applications are down significantly, meaning fewer gun owners are taking the safety classes to obtain a permit. Police report many of the guns being stolen are left in the center consoles and cupholders of unlocked vehicles - a violation of the law, but a violation that carries no consequence.

Below are tables and charts illustrating the increase in gun thefts in Memphis, Chattanooga and Nashville. The data was sourced from police departments and recent media reports.


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