Constitutional carry in Tennessee may not be unrestricted after all. Tennessee Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris has identified issues with the 2021 law that could cause responsibly armed Americans serious legal problems.
The Current Tennessee Gun Law
Tennessee Code Annotated Section 39-17-1307(a) prohibits the possession of a firearm “with the intent to go armed” (including on a resident’s property, in his or her home or with a permit). On April 8, 2021, Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed House Bill 786 into law (effective July 1, 2021). The bill created a statutory “exception” to Tennessee Code Annotated Section 39-17-1307(g) and (h). In order to carry, a Tennessee resident must meet the following seven criteria:
- Be at least 18 years old* or older (or is at least 18 years of age and has been honorably discharged from military service or is on active duty and has completed basic training)
- May lawfully possess a handgun
- Be in place where the individual has a right to be
- Has not been convicted of stalking
- Has not been convicted of the offense of driving under the influence of an intoxicant in Tennessee or any other state two or more times within the prior 10 years or one time within the prior five years
- Has not been adjudicated as a mental defective, judicially committed to, or hospitalized in, a mental institution, or had a court appoint a conservator for the individual by reason of a mental defect
- Is not otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm by 18 United States Code 922(g) as it existed on Jan. 1, 2021
Not So Fast
He says the 2021 bill signed into law by Gov. Lee created a statutory affirmative defense to a criminal charge of carrying a firearm with the intent to go armed. Harris states that when something is a “defense” or an “exception” to a criminal charge, the burden is on the resident to prove to a law enforcement officer or a jury that his or her conduct satisfies all the conditions in the law. In this instance, it’s Tennessee Code Annotated Section 39-17-1307(g) and (h). The defendant must introduce evidence at trial. And, if found to be credible, Harris says, it will negate criminal liability or civil liability. Alarmingly, as the law stands in Tennessee, an individual carrying a firearm with the intent to go armed has presumptively committed a crime.
In addition to a gun owner potentially having to prove his or her innocence at trial, Tennessee law also says that a law enforcement officer can disregard affirmative defenses when deciding to detain, arrest or charge a responsibly armed individual. Law enforcement officers currently have the right to stop and question an armed citizen only because he or she is armed.
Do either of these sound like constitutional carry to you? Considering these requirements, Tennessee isn’t a constitutional carry state. Rather, it’s a state that provides a highly controlled mechanism for permitless carry.
If the resident has a concealed carry permit, he or she does have the right to carry a gun and doesn’t need to meet the seven criteria mentioned earlier. But even though possessing a permit means the permit holder is not forced to meet the other requirements, it is hardly constitutional carry.
Real Constitutional Carry in Tennessee
Until these issues with the current law are addressed, they will continue to present potential legal problems for responsibly armed residents and restrict what, where and how they can lawfully carry.
The Tennessee Firearms Association is working to encourage its state legislators in 2023 to pass real constitutional carry in the state to ensure responsibly armed Americans don’t have to worry about these intricate details with the law or being charged with carrying or lawfully using a firearm for self-defense.
You can read John Harris’ article “Tennessee Does Not Have Real Constitutional Carry — The Talking Points” here.
*In April 2021, the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) sued the state of Tennessee for prohibiting 18- to 20-year-olds from carrying a concealed firearm in public or from obtaining a permit, stating that these restrictions were unconstitutional. On Jan. 23, 2023, attorneys for the state of Tennessee entered into an agreed order in federal court with the FPC. The order stipulates that the state’s restrictions were unconstitutional and that they will no longer be enforced. The order immediately went into effect.