We often have clients and callers ask us about their ability to buy, possess, and carry a gun in Tennessee while they’re facing criminal charges, and after being sentenced by the court. The Tennessee laws on carrying a gun, both concealed and unconcealed, and with or without a permit, are highly specific. To complicate matters further, this is a topic of law which has seen much recent change due to heated political conversations taking place in the state. So, can you carry a gun in Tennessee after catching criminal charges?
Before we get into the state laws on carrying a gun in Tennessee, let’s take a quick look at federal regulation of firearm possession. Under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), certain persons are prohibited from possessing a firearm, let alone carrying a handgun on their person. The group of people most frequently charged with violations of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) are individuals convicted in a state or federal court of a crime that is punishable by more than one year, or in other words, people convicted of felonies. Once an individual is convicted of a felony, they lose certain rights, including the right to possess a firearm. This not only means they cannot personally own a firearm, but also that they must not possess another person’s firearm, such as by having it on their person or in their car. Some other individuals prohibited from possessing a firearm by federal law are those dishonorably discharged from the military, fugitives from justice fleeing prosecution, and individuals addicted to scheduled drugs. A conviction for violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) typically carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and up to 3 years of supervised release.
Even if you are allowed to possess a firearm under the federal law, there are still grounds upon which the state you live in may deny you a permit to carry a handgun.
Handgun carry permits have been issued by the Tennessee Highway Patrol since 1996, when the responsibility was transferred to the Highway Patrol from local sheriff’s offices. THP is under Tennessee’s Department of Safety and Homeland Security. State law empowers the Tennessean government to regulate the right to conceal and carry firearms, with T.C.A. §39-17-1351 stating “The citizens of this state have a right to keep and bear arms for their common defense; but the general assembly has the power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime.” Any U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident of Tennessee who is at least 21 years of age (or is 18 years of age and a veteran or actively serving in the military) may apply to the Department of Safety and Homeland Security for an enhanced handgun permit.
However, THP will inevitably deny certain applicants a handgun carry permit. The primary applicants denied a permit are individuals who were convicted of a felony, but persons convicted of certain misdemeanors may also be denied a handgun carry permit. For example, applicants will be denied if they have ever been convicted of domestic violence or if they have been charged with domestic violence and are awaiting sentencing in court. The same applies for charges of stalking. Similarly, the applicant must not have an Order of Protection or a restraining order filed against them. These restrictions were passed in the interest of protecting victims of domestic violence and stalking from the threat of armed violence. Interestingly, though, the law also restricts certain individuals convicted of driving under the influence from obtaining a handgun carry permit. If an applicant is currently under the jurisdiction of the court for a DUI, or any other Class A misdemeanor conviction for that matter, their application will be denied until their sentence has been completed. If that person completes their sentence for their first DUI, but is convicted of a second DUI within ten years of the first one, they will not be eligible for a handgun carry permit until five years after the conviction date.
Please note that if your charges were dismissed and expunged, THP will not deny your handgun carry permit application. Furthermore, certain persons who were convicted and whose charges are not eligible for expungement may still be able to obtain a handgun carry permit. If an individual convicted of a crime which stripped them of the rights of citizenship has their rights restored by a state or federal court, THP may still approve their application. However, if that person was convicted of a felony crime of violence, a felony drug offense, or a felony offense involving use of a deadly weapon, rights restoration will notbe applied to their gun rights. For example, manufacturing, distributing, selling, or possessing with the intent to manufacture, distribute, or sell a Schedule I (i.e., marijuana) drug is a Class B felony in Tennessee. Therefore, an individual convicted of possessing marijuana with intent to distribute loses their right to a handgun carry permit and may never regain that right.
If THP denies an individual’s application, they will issue a written notice to the applicant within ten days which provides specific grounds for the denial. If the application is approved, however, the applicant should receive their permit within ninety days of THP receiving their application. The permit is good for eight years and can be renewed for a reasonable renewal fee. A Tennessee handgun carry permit also allows permit-holders to carry their weapon in states which have entered a reciprocity agreement with the state of Tennessee. Likewise, the state of Tennessee allows non-residents to carry a handgun if they carry a permit from another state.
THP conducts a name-based criminal history check on handgun carry permit holders every four years after the permit is applied for, so if you catch disqualifying charges, your handgun carry permit may be revoked by the state. Under TCA §39-17-1352, the permit holder must surrender their permit if they are convicted of a Class A misdemeanor or a felony. Furthermore, the State reserves the right to suspend a handgun carry permit pending adjudication on the holder’s criminal charges. If your handgun carry permit is denied, revoked, or suspended in Tennessee, you may petition the general sessions court of your county for judicial review of THP’s decision.
But don’t jump to any conclusions about your ability to buy, possess, or carry a handgun in Tennessee once criminal charges once the state brings criminal charges against you. Unless you’re federally disqualified from possessing a gun by a felony conviction, as discussed above, you can still own a weapon even if you cannot obtain a permit to carry it on your person. Take a DUI case wherein the permit-holder was convicted of driving under the influence, TCA §55-10-401, a Class A misdemeanor. THP will most likely revoke that person’s permit. However, because that person was not convicted of a felony, they retain their right to buy and possess a firearm.
As of July 2021, the State of Tennessee also recognizes permitless carry, sometimes referred to as “Constitutional Carry,” which removes the permit requirement for carrying a handgun. Check out our blog post from 2021 on the new permitless carry law.
Just because you’re allowed to possess and carry a handgun doesn’t mean you can bring it everywhere, though. Bringing a handgun into a school is still a criminal offense, and most government property has strict prohibitions against firearms. Furthermore, private entities such as individuals and companies are permitted by Tennessee law to prohibit the possession of weapons on their property.
The law concerning who is allowed to carry a gun, when, and where, is intricate, and varies greatly from state to state. If you or a loved one have been charged with unlawfully carrying a weapon, your handgun carry permit has been suspended or revoked, or you’re facing charges which may result in your gun rights being revoked, reach out to Best & Brock to get in touch with our skilled criminal defense attorneys. Contact us here or by calling 423-829-1043 to share your story and begin building a legal defense to protect both your rights and your future.