Last Updated: September 30, 2017
Disclaimer: While the information provided here is legal in nature, it is not to be construed as legal advice, and is for educational and entertainment purposes only.
With the amount of gun laws constantly being proposed and changed at the federal and state levels, it can get confusing trying to keep track of the ones that affect you and your gun rights.
Fortunately, as a relatively gun-friendly state, Tennessee does not have too many laws keeping law-abiding citizens from getting firearms and defending their freedoms.
This guide will go over everything you need to know about how to buy a gun and be a responsible gun owner!
Buying a handgun
Like many states that support your Second Amendment rights, Tennessee does not require you to have a permit in order to buy a handgun. Before you head out and expect to just grab a Glock off the shelf and walk out the door, there are still some basic requirements you’ll need to meet.
To buy a handgun, you must:
- Be 21 or older;
- Provide state ID; and
- Have a background check performed by a licensed firearms dealer.
Unlike other states, however, the background check is done by the state of Tennessee, rather than the FBI. The only difference this makes to you as a firearms purchaser is that the process may be faster if there aren’t as many people in the state making purchases, since you are not competing with the rest of the country!
You cannot own a handgun if you:
- Have been convicted of a felony involving the use or attempted use of force, violence, or a deadly weapon;
- Have been convicted of a felony drug offense; or
- Are under 18.
For those of you paying attention, you’ll notice the requirements say you have to be 21 or older, but you are not allowed to own a handgun if you are under 18. This is because the basic requirements are the federal requirements set by the US government. The state of Tennessee, on the other hand, only requires you to be 18 or older to buy a handgun.
So what does this mean? If you don’t mind buying a used handgun, you can purchase your pistol through a private sale, and only need to be 18 or older to do it. If you want to buy a brand new gun from your local gun store, you will have to wait until you turn 21, since they are federally licensed firearms dealers, and must follow the federal laws on firearms.
What about the children??
If you’re under 18, no worries! Even though you cannot legally buy a handgun in the state, there are still situations where you can have and use handguns!
You can use a handgun, even if you are under 18, if you are:
- Attending a hunter or firearms safety course;
- Practicing or target shooting at an authorized and established shooting range (an abandoned parking lot does not count);
- Participating in an organized competition;
- Practicing for a firearms event;
- Accompanied by your parent or guardian and have instruction on proper handgun use;
- On property under the control of an adult and have permission from your parent or guardian;
- At home, and have permission from your parent or guardian to have the firearm, and are justified in using deadly force;
- Hunting or trapping, with a valid license; or
- Travelling to or from any of the situations above, with an unloaded handgun.
Don’t forget about long guns!
While you’re picking out your next handgun, you should also think about adding a rifle or shotgun to your firearms collection too!
Buying a long gun is just as simple as getting a handgun, with the requirements actually being even more lenient!
To buy a long gun, you must:
- Be 18 or older;
- Provide ID; and
- Have a background check performed by a licensed firearms dealer.
Just like with handguns, if you decide to buy your long gun from a private individual, then you can skip the background check requirement.
Have gun, will carry
Once you’ve got your firearms in hand, you will probably want to show it off around town!
If you just want to show off your guns, you can carry your long guns or handguns openly, as long as they are unloaded. It won’t do a lot of good in terms of actually being able to protect yourself though. You’ll need a permit to carry loaded firearms openly.
If you want to carry concealed, you will need to get a permit too. The process is relatively involved, so we’ve got a dedicated Tennessee CCW Laws section that walks you through all the steps to getting a CCW permit, as well as the additional laws you’ll need to pay attention to once you start carrying concealed. For anyone interested, hop on over after you’re done here!
Like any good law, there are exceptions! You can carry your (loaded) firearms if you are:
- At home, at your place of business, or on your own property;
- Out hunting, trapping, fishing, camping, or sport shooting; or
- Protecting your livestock from predators (but you can only carry a rifle or shotgun for this).
In addition to those situations, there is one other big exception too: when you’re in your car. You can transport your firearms however you want, as long as they are not concealed. That means you can have your guns loaded and ready to go while you’re driving around. But remember, you can only carry unloaded firearms when not in your vehicle.
Basically, if you are driving to or from any activity where you can have loaded firearms, this will save you the hassle of having to unload everything before getting in the car. If you just want to have loaded firearms while driving, then you’ll need to unload your guns every time you get out of the car. Not an ideal situation, but it is what it is.
When can you use your guns?
Like most gun-friendly states, Tennessee has self-defense laws on the books allowing you to use deadly force to defend yourself in certain situations.
Defending the castle
One of the most common self-defense laws is what is known as the “Castle Doctrine”. Under this law, you can defend yourself and others when you are at home, i.e. your “castle”.
Specifically, as long as you have a reasonable belief that someone illegally and forcibly entered your home, business, or vehicle, and was going to cause imminent death or serious bodily injury to you or another person, then you are justified in using deadly force against the person who entered the home, business or vehicle.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that you have to be in the home, business, or vehicle that is broken into. If someone breaks into your house while you’re sleeping, and you reasonably believe they intend to cause you harm, then you can use deadly force to keep that harm from happening.
If, however, someone breaks into your car in the driveway while you’re sitting on the couch watching TV, you cannot start shooting at your car to stop the person. There was no reasonable way to think that a person stealing your car would cause you harm inside your home. If they drove the car through the front door, then that would be a different issue.
Standing your ground
Beyond being able to defend yourself while at home, Tennessee also allows you to use deadly force to defend yourself and others while outside of the house as well.
As long as you are in a place where you are legally allowed to be (i.e. a restaurant, but not the employees-only areas), and you reasonably believe there is an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury against you or someone else, then you are justified in using deadly force to stop the threat.
Even with these laws permitting self-defense, it is important to keep in mind that just because you are justified in using deadly force does not mean it is required. Always use your best judgement to decide what type of force is appropriate, or if it is necessary to stand your ground, when retreating may be the safer option for you and others around you.
And with that, we’re done! You now know everything there is to know about gun laws in the great state of Tennessee! If you are interested in getting that CCW permit so you can open carry while running errands around town, be sure to check out our Tennessee CCW section for all the info.
If you don’t need to know about the carry permit laws just yet, that’s ok too! You can work on your gun collection instead! You might want a nice safe to keep all your new toys though. A sturdy safe can also keep your guns from prying eyes and curious kids.
If you want to start smaller, a gun cabinet, or even just a decent handgun safe may be a good investment, so all those rifles can have a quiet place to rest after a busy day at the range.