A recent law enacted in Tennessee provides another exception to the existing law that makes it a crime for any citizen to carry any firearm with the intent to go armed. The new law allows citizens who meet certain conditions to carry handguns in certain locations in the state without the need for a state-issued handgun carry permit. This qualified “Permitless Carry” law is far from what’s known as “Constitutional Carry” pursuant to the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Under the terms of the Second Amendment, true constitutional carry would allow any individual who could legally possess a firearm to have the right to carry that firearm on publicly owned properties without governmental restrictions. This is basically what the Second Amendment provides—no governmental infringement of the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
Given the broad language of the Second Amendment, Tennessee’s Permitless Carry law falls far short of the terms of Constitutional Carry. In fact, rather than removing the prohibition against carrying a firearm with the intent to go armed—as true Constitutional Carry might do—the new Permitless Carry law merely provides another exception to a criminal charge under TCA 39-17-1307(a) for carrying a firearm. And the conditions and restrictions for meeting this exception go beyond anyone who can legally possess a firearm. The exception also has limited application to handguns rather than extending to firearms in general.
So, what are the conditions which must be satisfied in order to avoid being criminally charged with carrying a handgun with the intent to go armed? First, the person must be 21 years old unless they meet certain military qualifications. They must lawfully possess a handgun (not a rifle, shotgun or handgun with a barrel exceeding 12 inches). They must be in a place where the person is lawfully present. They must never have been convicted of the nonviolent misdemeanor crime of stalking (TCA 39-17-315). They must not have one or more DUIs in the last five years, or two or more DUIs in the last 10 years. The person must not have been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed/hospitalized in a mental institution. Finally, they must not be prohibited from possessing a firearm under Federal law (18 U.S.C 922(g)).
All of these conditions must be met in order to carry without a permit, and a law enforcement officer can stop a person and detain them to determine whether each of these conditions has been met.
It’s also important to understand that the new Permitless Carry law retains the existing handgun permit laws which provide for the issuance of Enhanced Handgun Carry Permits as well as Concealed Handgun Carry Permits. Only those who have these actual permits are allowed to carry their handguns in certain areas such as public parks, greenways,waterways and similar publicly-owned areas. Those who bring their handguns in these areas without these permits can be criminally charged with carrying with intent to go armed.
We have previously addressed in some detail the subject of reciprocity, and how to maximize the ability to have one’s handgun carry rights recognized in other states. In sum, in order for other states to recognize your Tennessee handgun carry rights, you must hold an actual, physical permit as a matter of necessity.
Given all of the above, there is still a great benefit in obtaining or retaining your Tennessee handgun carry permit. Having an actual permit ensures the greatest flexibility in carrying your handgun in Tennessee, as well as other states, and minimizes your risk of facing criminal charges for carrying your handgun on a day to day basis.