Tennessee protects the right to bear arms under Article I, Section 26 of its state constitution. But the right to bear arms doesn't mean that everyone may carry a gun when or wherever they like. Laws that went into effect in 2021 expanded open and concealed gun-carrying rights in Tennessee, but the law's existing prohibitions remain in effect and continue to restrict and regulate who may carry a gun and where.
This article reviews Tennessee's general prohibition against carrying firearms and the exceptions to this law allowing the carrying of handguns with or without a permit. It also identifies persons who are prohibited from carrying guns and places and situations where guns are not allowed, even with a permit.
Tennessee makes it a crime to carry a firearm "with the intent to go armed." But an exception in the law allows certain individuals to carry handguns (not shotguns or rifles) without a permit in places where firearms are not prohibited or restricted. In certain areas, like public parks, a person must still have a permit to carry a handgun. Many places continue to be off-limits for guns, even with a permit, such as school buildings, federal buildings, and courtrooms. Let's review these provisions in more detail. (Scroll down for more information on prohibited persons, places, and situations.)
As of July 1, 2021, an adult can carry a handgun, openly or concealed, in Tennessee without a permit, if the person is:
Permitless carry is an exception to the law's general prohibition against carrying firearms with the intent to go armed. Under this exception, eligible individuals can carry handguns without a permit in locations that are not otherwise prohibited by law, posted as prohibiting firearms, or restricted to permit holders only.
Individuals who qualify for permitless carry can also apply for enhanced carry and concealed handgun carry permits. These permits allow permit holders to carry guns in select places where permitless carry is not allowed, including:
It's a misdemeanor offense to carry a gun with the intent to go armed if you're not eligible for permitless carry or don't have the proper permit. Harsher penalties may apply if you violate these provisions by being a prohibited person or carrying in a prohibited area or situation.
Generally, a person who commits a first violation faces a Class C misdemeanor. For subsequent violations, the penalty bumps up to a Class B misdemeanor. A defendant also faces a Class B misdemeanor if their ineligibility for permitless carry was due to having a disqualifying conviction or adjudication on record. Class A misdemeanor penalties apply to any violation in a public space where someone is present.
If any of the following apply, a person cannot carry a gun with or without a permit in Tennessee. The person:
A prohibited person who unlawfully carries a gun could face state and federal criminal charges.
Carrying a gun, with or without a permit, is prohibited in the following places and situations. (Regarding locations, these rules generally don't apply to on-duty law enforcement officers and other authorized personnel.)
Posted property. It's a class B misdemeanor to carry a firearm in or on private or government property in violation of properly posted signage indicating "No Firearms Allowed."
Judicial proceedings. You may not intentionally or recklessly carry a gun (or another type of prohibited weapon) in any room where judicial proceedings are in progress. This offense is a class E felony.
School property. It's against the law to possess or carry any weapon on school property, including K-12 schools, colleges, and universities, or in school busses. If a person violates this provision with the intent to go armed, the crime is a class E felony. Other offenses are class B misdemeanors.
Bars. It's a class A misdemeanor to carry a firearm in a bar while consuming alcohol.
While intoxicated. A person cannot possess a gun while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This offense is a class A misdemeanor.
Criminal intent. It's a class E felony to possess any type of dangerous weapon with the intent to use it in a crime.
Federal property. Federal law bans carrying firearms on most federal properties, including courthouses, airports, post offices, and spaces or buildings rented, owned, or leased by the federal government.
Penalties for violating gun carry laws can be serious. If you have any questions about whether you are allowed to carry a gun in Tennessee, or if you are facing charges for a gun violation, consult a qualified criminal defense lawyer.
(Tenn. Code §§ 39-11-106, 39-17-1302, 39-17-1306, 39-17-1307, 39-17-1308, 39-17-1309, 39-17-1310, 39-17-1311, 39-17-1351, 39-17-1366, 40-35-111; 18 U.S.C. § 922 (2021).)