What Are The Gun Laws In Tennessee? The State's Legislation Includes A Big Loophole

ByMonica Busch

Early on Sunday morning, a gunman opened fire at a Waffle House near Nashville, killing at least four people. And as the nation watches the latest mass shooting unfold, the question of what the gun laws in Tennessee are invariably comes to mind.

According to the gun control advocate group Giffords Law Center, Tennessee has several key regulations in place, though by and large the state's firearms laws are rather lenient. Among the preventative measures in place, Tennessee law requires licensed firearms dealers to submit background checks on all gun purchasers. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation tacks a $10 fee to gun purchases in order to cover that cost.

The state also bans certain groups of people from purchasing guns in the state. Among those prohibited are those convicted of domestic violence charges, people convicted of a felony that placed them in prison for longer than one year, and individuals known to be addicted to drugs or alcohol.

While Tennessee's laws provide for a handful of gun violence prevention measures, there are also several key loopholes. Tennessee gun laws are largely concerned with how the gun in question is obtained. Virtually any legal adult in clean legal standing may possess a gun, though there are age restrictions that dictate who may sell or loan a gun to whom, depending on how old the person receiving the gun is. Licensed dealers are prohibited from selling handguns to anyone under 21, and from selling rifles and shotguns to anyone under 18.

However, these laws can be easily circumvented. Giffords reports that, while licensed firearms dealers are required to initiate background checks, that is not the case in private sales. This is what is often referred to as the gun show loophole, and it also applies to individuals between the ages of 18 and 21 who want to buy a handgun.

In Tennessee, there is no mandatory waiting period for purchasing guns, and dealers are not required to have a state license. Those interested in purchasing a gun in Tennessee are also not required to obtain a permit first. Carry permits are required for handguns, however, regardless of age. (No permit to carry is required for shotguns and rifles.)

Lawful gun owners are also allowed to keep loaded firearms in their personal vehicles, regardless of whether they have a handgun-carry permit. This allowance became law in the summer of 2014, according to the The Chattanooga Times Free Press. Before the law, those without carry permits were only allowed to keep unloaded firearms in their cars.

When it comes to self-defense, the Tennessee is considered a "stand your ground" state. If a legal gun owner feels that his or her life is in immediate danger, or else that serious injury may occur, that person is allowed to use their gun for personal protection. Tennessee law does not require that gun owner to be in his or her own home for the self-defense law to apply, either. As long as gun owners are legally allowed to be wherever they are when they feel threatened, they are also permitted to "stand their ground" and shoot at whoever they feel is threatening them. They are not required to attempt to retreat before firing.

As for the shooter in Tennessee, initial reports indicate that an AR-15 was used. Because there is no assault weapons ban, and because an AR-15 is a rifle and not a handgun, virtually any law-abiding citizen over the age of 18 may purchase one. (Owners may also carry it around with them, so long as it is unloaded.) If that sale is made privately, no background check is required, meaning that the sale can be completed almost instantly.

Lax gun laws have increasingly faced scrutiny as high-profile mass shootings continue to capture the public's attention. However, the debate is often polarizing to the point of standstill. Whether Tennessee lawmakers intend to examine the state's gun laws following Sunday's shooting is currently unknown.