Do you know what “Constitutional Carry” really means for the citizens of Tennessee?
As of July 1, 2021, Tennessee enacted legislation regarding possession of firearms that most referred to as the catchy but misleading title of “Constitutional Carry”. The Tennessee legislature, with the signature of Governor Lee, signed into law changes to the already existing law regarding the possession of firearms. The changes were highly praised for being less restrictive and providing more freedom to the citizens of Tennessee. They were also highlighted as being one of only a few states to have passed such “unrestricted” firearm legislation. The problem is that the changes to the law may sound good when spun by the media or the legislature. When you read the changes in reality…they tell a different story. The truth is the real effect that the new “Constitutional Carry” law places heavy restrictions on the citizens of Tennessee. Restrictions without any warning. Restrictions that anyone could find themselves being charged with a crime.
Tenn. Code Ann. 39-17-1307(a)(1) states the following:
“A person commits an offense who carries, with the intent to go armed, a firearm or a club.”
This means what any citizen of Tennessee who carries a firearm with the thought of protecting yourself, another person, or possibly being forced to use the firearm has committed a criminal offense. This is a misdemeanor offense varying in class depending on the circumstances.
(e)(1) It is an exception… that a person carrying or possessing a firearm, loaded firearm, or firearm ammunition was in a motor vehicle or boat if the person:
- Is not prohibited from possessing or receiving a firearm, or purchasing a firearm, and
- Is in lawful possession of the motor vehicle or boat.
 Tenn. Code Ann. 39-17-1307(e)(1)
What does this mean for the citizens of Tennessee? As long as you can legally possess the firearm and legally operate the vehicle or boat then the person having a firearm in the vehicle or boat is an exception to the offense. Similar to any exception, the person has still committed a criminal offense BUT the exception keeps you from being arrested… as long as you meet the very specific points of the exception. This could be problematic if you believe the exception applies and when approached by law enforcement, they may inform you it doesn’t. The result could mean that you end up in jail with a court date, leaving you needing an attorney. This exception still exists in the current law.
(g)(1) It is an exception… that a person is carrying, whether openly or concealed, a handgun and:
(1) The person is at least twenty-one (21) years of age; and
(2) The person lawfully possesses the handgun; and
(3) The person is in a place where the person is lawfully present
There are additional exceptions to the age required in subsection (1) pertaining to individuals at least eighteen (18) years of age which deal with those honorable discharged or retired from armed forces, those honorable discharged from the national guard or military reserves who completed basic training, or current a member of the armed forces.
Again, what does this means for the citizens of Tennessee? As long as you meet the age requirement, legally possess the firearm, and you can legally take a firearm where you have one, then there should be an exception to the offense. This exception is the point of legislation most media and politicians addressed as “Constitutional Carry”. Thought and portrayed to the public as the most unrestrictive gun legislation to date. The problem is that the legislature added more to the law then just the section above. The legislature added another offense to law without any notice or warning. This addition could place law abiding citizens in risk of going to jail.
(h)(1) A person commits an offense who carries, with the intent to go armed, and
(A) Has been convicted of stalking
(B) Has been convicted of the offense of driving under the influence of an intoxicant in this or any other state two or more times within the prior ten years or one time within the prior five years;
(C) Has been adjudicated as a mental defective, judicially committed to, or hospitalized in a mental institution…or had a court appoint a conservator for the person by reason of a mental defect; or
(D) Is otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm.
- .The legislature adds broad and vague prohibitions to the statute which makes carrying a gun a crime if you have ever been adjudicated as mentally defective, judicially committed, or hospitalized in a mental institution. The later of those circumstances, hospitalization, is extremely broad and comprehensively void of outside circumstances. A lifetime cannot be equated to one moment and mental health can change dramatically throughout one’s entire life.
However, the construction of this offense as it relates to a conviction for DUI is the major problem. The legislature, again without warning or notice, enacts this law that makes it illegal for anyone who has a DUI conviction within five years or two convictions within ten years to carry a firearm. It doesn’t matter rich or poor, race, gender, year of conviction, circumstances of your case. It only matters whether you have a conviction. DUI is a non-violent offense which is strictly punished in the State of Tennessee and can never be expunged from your record. Now, the punishment includes being unable to carry a firearm for significantly longer than any other punishment for the same offense. To add insult to injury, the legislature did not place a start time on the restriction. This means that it doesn’t matter if your DUI conviction occurs after July 1st or not. For example, anyone who was convicted for DUI first offense in 2017 and completed all the requirements of that conviction would not be allowed to carry a firearm until 2022 and if convicted of DUI second offense, would not be able to carry a firearm until 2027. This is a major problem. For a real-life example, say a military service man or woman is on leave and gets a DUI. The service member pleads guilty to the charge one year later and accepts the punishment. The service member now has a conviction and can no longer legally carry a firearm for five years after that conviction. How is that person supposed to complete their enlistment? They can’t. From one mistake, which they accepted the consequences, their entire career has been destroyed. This is a major problem.
Along the same lines, of whether or not you can legally carry, it matters where you can legally carry. Although the legislation was said to eliminate the need for the handgun carry permit. It was not shared that there are still strict restrictions on the places you can legally carry without a permit. There are specifically defined places that the legislation does not allow you to legally carry a firearm and a permit will still be required. These types of places include:
Greenways and public walking trails
Or any government operated recreation area
Even if you are correct about your standing with the exceptions to the law, you can legally carry a firearm, and you are not in a prohibited place, there is one additional consequence. Based on the new law, it is likely that if law enforcement notices someone carrying a firearm in public, the officer likely has enough probably cause to stop you, check your ID, run your information to see if you meet the requirements for the exception. These types of interactions can lead to additional problems which are so expansive you cannot list.
The only defenses which exist for crimes of this nature include circumstances such as being at your own residence, at your own place of business, actively participating in hunting or sport shooting or having a valid handgun carry permit. The same permits which the media and the legislature said weren’t needed anymore because of this new law.
You never really know what your legislature is telling you or keeping in secret. You may find yourself in a pair of handcuffs or a jail cell if not informed about how new laws can affect your life. In the event you do find yourself in that position, it is always helpful to have someone on your side that understands the law and has experience fighting it. That’s where myself and my team of experience professionals come to your defense.
Further, there are additional sections of the statute regarding unlawful possession of weapons which state the following:
It is a felony criminal offense to possesses a firearm if you have been convicted of the following:
(b)(1) A felony involving violence or drugs.
(c)(1) Any felony unless the conviction has been pardoned, expunged, or your civil rights have been restored and does not prohibit possession.
(d)(1) Or possesses any deadly weapon with the intent to employ it during the commission of, attempt, or escape from a dangerous offense… Dangerous offenses include any of the following:
First Degree Murder
Second Degree Murder
Aggravated or Especially Aggravated Kidnapping
Aggravated or Especially Aggravated Burglary
Aggravated or Especially Aggravated Stalking
Initiating the process of manufacture methamphetamine
Sale, manufacture, distribution, or possession with intent to sell, manufacture, or distribute a controlled substance
OR any attempt to commit any of these offenses
Also, a misdemeanor offense…
(f)(1) A person commits an offense who possesses a firearm…and:
- Convicted of domestic violence.
- Subject to an Order of Protection
- Otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm under state or federal law. 
 Tenn. Code Ann. 39-17-1307(e)(1)
 Tenn. Code Ann. 39-17-1307(g)(1)
 Tenn. Code Ann. 39-17-1307(h)(1)
 Tenn. Code Ann. 39-17-1307(b)(1)
 Tenn. Code Ann. 39-17-1307(c)(1)
 Tenn. Code Ann. 39-17-1307(d)(1) and (2)
 Tenn. Code Ann. 39-17-1324
 Tenn. Code Ann. 39-17-1307(f)(1)