The Tennessee Attorney General released an opinion (AG 15-75) on November 9, 2015, which addresses the massive confusion under Tennessee law of whether and to what extent a convicted felon can own, possess and use black powder weapons. This opinion is in addition to at least 3 other opinions previously issued by the Tennessee Attorney General on this topic which have created inconsistent opinions and unnecessary confusion about state and federal law on this topic.
Highlights of the opinion include the following statements:
- Question l(a) If a person who has been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor involving domestic violence obtains a complete restoration of the right to own and possess firearms by expungement under Tenn. Code Ann.§§ 40-32-101(g) or (h) or by successfully obtaining a handgun carry permit under Tenn. Code Ann.§ 39-17-1351(j), are there any restrictions under federal or state law on the types of firearms that such a person may possess?
- Question l(b)
If a person who has been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor involving domestic violence obtains a complete restoration of the right to own and possess firearms by expungement under Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 40-32-101(g) or (h), is that person also required to obtain a valid handgun carry permit to lawfully possess a firearm?
- Question 2(a)
Does Tennessee law prohibit a person who has been convicted of a felony and who has not obtained a full restoration of his firearms rights from possessing black powder firearms?
Yes. As a general rule, a person who has been convicted of a felony may not possess any antique, black powder or any other type of firearm unless his firearms rights have been completely
restored. But there are certain exceptions that permit a nonviolent felony offender to possess black powder and antique long guns and that permit convicted felons to possess black powder long guns and handguns only at their places of residence.
- Question 2(b)
Do the prohibitions against possession of antique and black powder firearms apply only to offenders who have been convicted of violent felonies and felony drug offenses?
Subject to limited exceptions for possession of black powder and antique long guns by nonviolent felons and for any felony offender’s possession of black powder firearms at that offender’s place of residence, convicted felons of any class are prohibited from possessing antique or black powder firearms.
- Question 2(c)
Does Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1307(e) permit a person who has been convicted of a violent felony or felony drug offense to possess a black powder firearm in a motor vehicle if the offender is in lawful possession of the motor vehicle?
Tennessee Code Annotated§ 39-17-1307(e), by its plain terms, provides an exception to Tenn. Code Ann.§ 39-17-1307(a), which prohibits the carrying of weapons for purposes of going
armed. It does not permit possession of any firearm, including a black powder firearm, by a person who has been convicted of a violent felony or felony drug offense.
- Question 2(d)
Does Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1364 operate as a limited exception to the prohibitions against the possession and sale of black powder firearms in Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-17-1307 and
- Question 3
Is Tennessee law sufficiently clear to provide convicted felons with fair warning about prohibitions on the possession of various types of firearms?
- Question 4
Is Tennessee law sufficiently clear to provide convicted felons with fair warning regarding applicable prohibitions on the possession Of antique or black powder firearms?
The opinion is a morass of reasoning that yields one of two (or possibly more) conclusions. First, the AG does not have the slightest clue about this topic but has chosen to author an opinion with conclusions that are the most restrictive possible to maximize the infringements of 2nd Amendment rights of individuals who have had their rights restored and/or who are non-violent felons who have served their sentences in full
Second, state law is a mess in this area. If this conclusion is accurate, it is particularly frustrating because Republicans have fully controlled state government for the last 5 years but have allowed this confusing and inconsistent statutory scheme to continue to exist despite their claims to be constitutionialists that favor smaller, cleaner, fairer government and minimal infringement of fundamental rights.
Whatever the conclusion, the question is will the Republican controlled and dominated state government lift a finger to address the problem in the 2016 legislative session? The answer is likely – probably not.