Traveler's Guide to the Firearm Laws of the Fifty States


Total prohibition                                                                                         Total freedom

0 —— 10 —— 20 —— 30 —— 40 —— 50 —— 60 —— 70 —— 80 —— 90 —— 100


Traveler’s checklist:

  • Standard firearms ownership: unrestricted, no permit or license required
  • Semi-auto / high capacity magazines: no restrictions on possession or sale
  • Machine gun ownership: no state restrictions, compliance with federal law only
  • Firearm law uniformity: preemption law, cities prohibited from creating new laws
  • Right of Self-Defense: NRA-model castle doctrine, stand your ground in public areas
  • Open carry: prohibited unless one possesses a recognized permit to carry a handgun
  • Concealed carry: licenses granted on a “shall issue” basis; automatic reciprocity for
  • non-residents with carry permits from any other state
  • Vehicle carry by non-permittees: firearms must be unloaded and in plain view or secured in commercial gun cases anywhere in the vehicle
  • State Parks: concealed handgun carry by recognized licensees permitted
  • Restaurants serving alcohol: permittees may carry while eating in dining areas – see p.3
  • Duty to notify LEO of permit status: upon demand of police officer
  • Vehicle gun possession at colleges: lawful for permittees, but code enforcement possible


            Tennessee is slightly more restrictive in its treatment of firearms than some
of its neighbors.  But the birthplace of Alvin York has a solid tradition of private gun
ownership that should provide most travelers with an enjoyable visit.

 Recognized permittees: A license is required to carry a loaded handgun
either openly or concealed.  Such permits are issued through the Department of Public
Safety to qualified residents 21 years or older for 4 year terms. Tennessee recognizes
any valid, out-of-state permit for carrying a handgun as long as the permittee is not a
resident of  Tennessee and restricts his weapons’ carry to handguns only.  Nonresidents
are not issued permits unless they are regularly employed in the state.  Most areas off-limits
to permittee carry, such as colleges, civic centers & public recreation buildings, are posted
with signage.  These prohibitions can include all property owned or operated by the entity.
Although “open areas” such as local parks and campgrounds are O.K. under state law, localities
can still prohibit carry in these places by posting signs.  Parking lots are exempt from prohibition if the permittee’s firearms remain secured from view in a privately owned vehicle.

Persons without recognized permits: Travelers without valid permits are
prohibited from carrying handguns with the “intent to go armed.” The actions of the person
and the state of the firearms that he has in his possession define this condition.  If the weapons
are loaded and carried on his person, he is in violation of the law unless he has a recognized
permit.  Thus, vehicle carry of all handguns by non-licensed persons should be limited to ones
that are unloaded.  The weapons should be in plain view or secured in commercial gun cases.
Glove compartment or console box carry is not permitted.  “Unloaded” refers to handguns that
are void of any ammunition in the magazines or chambers and have no loaded magazines nearby. Such weapons may be situated anywhere in the vehicle except concealed on or about one’s person.

All Persons:  Rifles and shotguns carried in a vehicle must remain unloaded and
separate from ammunition unless one has a recognized carry permit.  Tennessee allows permittees to possess magazine loaded, but chamber unloaded, long guns in vehicles.

Tennessee’s preemption statute prevents localities from enacting new laws regulating the
possession, ownership or transportation of firearms and ammunition.  The law grandfathers local ordinances passed before 1986.  But most aspects of licensed handgun carry are regulated exclusive