By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law
Article I, Section 26 of the Tennessee Constitution provides: “That the citizens of this State have a right to keep and bear arms for their common defense; but the Legislature shall have the power, by law, to regulate the wearing of firearms with a view to prevent crime.” Pursuant to this power, myriad laws have been passed to punish as well as permit the carrying of firearms. For example, Tennessee Code Annotated Section 39-17-1307 outlines the crime of unlawful carrying or possession of a weapon. The offender must carry a firearm, a knife with a blade length exceeding 4 inches, or a club with the intent to go armed. The punishment for this offense increases depending upon the number of violations by the offender and where the offense occurred. A person who has been convicted of domestic violence or is subject to certain orders of protection and who possesses a firearm may violate this statute. Also if the offender is already a convicted felon, felons are typically prohibited by law from possessing a firearm regardless of intent so being in possession of a firearm subjects them to additional felony charges for violating this statute.
Despite this statute, a person who qualifies and obtains a civilian handgun permit under the process prescribed by T.C.A. Section 39-17-1351 may wear a gun openly or in a concealed manner. According the Attorney General’s Opinion No. 05-154, “the statutes governing the wearing and carrying of firearms neither expressly prohibit the permit holder from carrying a handgun openly, nor expressly require the permit holder to carry the handgun concealed.” Of course, using or carrying the handgun during the commission of a crime would subject the handgun carry permit holder to arrest.
On July 1, a new law took effect that allows many Tennessee gun owners without handgun carry permits to keep loaded firearms in their vehicles. Previously non carry permit holders could keep unloaded weapons in their vehicles but had to keep the ammunition separately. Under the new law, there are two requirements to qualify to keep the weapons in their vehicles. First, the gun owners must not be prohibited from possessing or receiving a firearm by federal law or from purchasing a firearm under state law. Second, they must be in lawful possession of the vehicle. If the vehicle is owned or leased by a government or private employer for the use of employees it is not covered if the employer has adopted a written policy prohibiting firearms or ammunition within the vehicle.
A controversial open-carry gun bill (The Open Carry Firearms Freedom Act) was killed in the House Finance Subcommittee in April of this year. Senate Bill 2424 filed by Sen. Mae Beavers did away with the requirement that gun owners go through a background check, receive training and obtain a permit before carrying a handgun in public. The handgun carry permit would only be required if they wished to conceal their weapons. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 25-2 but was never brought to a vote on the floor of the House. Please note that no state legislation can remove any federal gun ownership restrictions already in place such as a criminal background check and a waiting period to purchase handguns.