Tennessee's Lax Gun Laws
Guns and Ammo ranks Tennessee as the 12th best state for Gun Owners while Gifford's Law Center gives the state's gun laws an F.
Over the last 15 years, the Tennessee General Assembly has systematically loosened the state's gun laws. Lawmakers sponsoring and voting for these laws - and against any and all gun safety legislation - argue that gun law reform is pointless because "criminals don't follow laws."
Yet, this argument is only used in reference to firearm legislation. No one ever suggests eliminating or increasing speed limits because people are always going to speed. Nor does anyone ever suggest that we shouldn't bother with DUI laws because people are always going to drink and drive. And, based on the number sentence enhancement bills passed every year, Tennessee lawmakers clearly believe that laws do in fact serve as a deterrent.
Lawmakers also tell us that "more guns more places" makes us safer. If that were true, Tennessee should be one of the safest states in America. However, according the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, Tennessee has the 3rd highest rate of violent crime in murders in the country, and the highest rate of all the southern states.
Of particular note is the "Guns in Trunks" law, first passed in 2013 and expanded in 2014. Since the law went into effect, gun thefts from vehicles have skyrocketed, especially in Nashville and Memphis, leading to thousands of illegal guns flooding our communities. In that same period of time, gun deaths and especially gun homicides have spiked. For example, MNPD reported 191 guns stolen from Nashville cars in 2012. In 2022, 1,378 guns were stolen from Nashville cars - an increase of 629%. Law enforcement correlates increases in gun violence and homicide to the ever increasing number of guns stolen from cars (many of which are unlocked), and have repeatedly asked the legislature to address the "guns in trunks" problems by repealing the law altogether or at least mandating safe storage laws. Year after year, Tennessee lawmakers reject their pleas.
Key firearm legislation passed in Tennessee between 2008 and the present
2007: Stand Your Ground law is passed, which removes the duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense. Additionally, the law also limits law enforcement’s ability to arrest someone who claims to have acted in self defense.
(2007 SB0011 by Jackson/HB1907 by Rinks)
2010: “Guns in Bars” law is passed, allowing permit holders to carry loaded guns in bars and restaurants.
(2010 SB3012 by Jackson/HB3125 by Todd)
2013: “Guns in Trunks” law is passed, allowing permit holders to store loaded guns in their vehicles, even on private property that prohibits weapons.
(2013 SB2013 by Ramsey/HB0118 by Faison)
2014: “Guns in Trunks” law is expanded, allowing any legal gun owner to store loaded guns in their vehicles, even on private property that prohibits weapons.
(2014 SB2031 by Hensley/HB1483 by Moody)
NOTE: "Guns in Trunks" specifies that any firearms stored in vehicles must 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)). Therefore, when these gun owners break the law, they face no consequences whatsoever.
2015: “Guns in Parks” law allows is passed, allowing permit holder to carry loaded guns in any public park or playground, including those used by schools.
(2015 SB1171 by Stevens/HB995 by Harrison)
2016: “Guns on Campus” law is passed, allowing permit holders who are faculty or full-time employees of public colleges and universities to carry loaded guns on college campuses
(2016 SB2376 by Bell/HB1736 by Holt)
2017: "Guns on Buses" law is passed, allowing permit holders to carry loaded guns on public transportation and includes a provision that allows an individual or organization to sue a city for triple damages if the city refuses to comply.
(2017 SB445 by Stevens/HB508 by Lamberth)
2017: A bi-partisan law is passed to strengthen domestic violence laws by requiring convicted domestic abusers to submit a firearm dispossession form to the court following conviction.
(2017 SB229 by Massey/HB1112 by Farmer)
2018: The House votes to overturn the 2017 firearm dispossession form law and instead, require the Administrative Office of the Courts to develop a form that a defendant would be required to sign PRIOR to entering a plea, advising them that pleading guilty would result in the loss of their second amendment rights and would require them to dispossess. The House sponsor, an attorney, claimed that he did not understand the legislation he sponsored and supported the previous year. Under pressure from domestic violence organizations statewide, the bill was never calendared for a full Senate floor vote.
(2018 SB1341 by Massey/HB1295 by Farmer)
2019: A law is passed making it illegal to give, loan, or transfer a gun to a person known to be adjudicated mentally ill. However, no such provision was made for persons known to be otherwise prohibited under state or federal law from purchasing or possessing guns. Subsequent attempts to pass legislation to close this loophole, including most recently in 2023, failed. In Tennessee, it remains legal to give, loan, or transfer a gun to a person you know to be felon, convicted domestic abuser, or under an order of protection. The person taking possession of the gun would be breaking a law. The person giving them the gun would not.
(2019 SB1402 by Bell/HB754 by Smith)
2019: A law is passed creating a new gun permit that only requires an applicant to complete a background check and watch a short online video.
(2019 SB705 by Stephens/HB1264 by Holt)
2021: "Permitless Carry" law is passed that allows the carry of loaded firearms in public and any place guns are allowed without any type of gun permit or training requirement.
(2021 SB765 by Johnson/HB786 by Lamberth)
NOTE: In October of 2018, when asked if he would support permitless carry, then-candidate Bill Lee said, "I don't. Primarily because I'm a guy who's listening to law enforcement and what they believe, and law enforcement is very much against that." Law enforcement remained adamantly opposed to the legislation and testified against it, but the bill passed along party lines.