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Gun Usage for Self-Defense in an Open Carry State

Law Office of Joshua S. Reed  Sept. 6, 2023

In 2021, over a thousand people—1,569 specifically—lost their lives from a firearm, putting our state 10th in the nation for firearm mortality in the state of Tennessee. This data put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a sobering reminder of just how dangerous a firearm can be. Knowing this makes it even more important that those who choose to lawfully carry a gun or firearm are well aware of their rights and the limitations of Tennessee gun laws.  

This becomes especially true when a gun is used in self-defense. To those living in Knoxville or Farragut, Tennessee, call us at the Law Office of Joshua S. Reed to learn more about your rights to self-defense in an open-carry state. We’re also able to represent clients in the surrounding areas, including but not limited to Anderson County, Blount County, Union County, Maryville County, Oak Ridge County, Loudon County, and Clinton County. 

Self-Defense Laws in Tennessee

In general, Tennessee has lax gun laws compared with other states in the country, meaning there are fewer restrictions on how and when adults in the state can carry and use a gun. That said, there still are clear laws about self-defense. In most cases, a person can only use self-defense when they truly believe themselves to be in immediate danger of being injured or killed and there are two main laws that cover this topic: 

  • Stand Your Ground Law: A little over half the states in the country have what’s called a “stand your ground” law. This law states that you have no duty to retreat before you can use deadly force against someone who is threatening your life. This contrasts with a state that would have a “duty to retreat” law that requires you to attempt to get away (or retreat) from an attacker or person who is threatening your life before you’re allowed to use deadly force against them. In these states, if there is no option to seek safety, then you are permitted to act in self-defense. The Stand Your Ground rule also requires you to be in a place you’re legally allowed (ie. you can’t be trespassing) and not be involved in an illegal activity. You may also have to show that you were in “reasonable fear” of your life. 

  • The Castle Doctrine: The other big self-defense law in Tennessee is called the Castle Doctrine--it gets its name from the famous quote, “a man’s home is his castle.” This doctrine states that if you are in your home or on your property (though it can also apply to your car or business), you can use deadly force in self-defense without having to show reasonable fear. This doctrine assumes that when any intruder is in your house and using force, you would be in fear for your life and could therefore respond with deadly force.  

Use of a Gun/Firearm in Self-Defense

As of July 2021, Tennessee allows permitless carry for any individual over the age of 21, law enforcement officers, or military who are over the age of 18. This applies to both concealed and open carry of firearms. However, there are some restrictions about this, most notably places where you’re not allowed to carry even under the law. These include: 

  • Schools 

  • Public and national parks 

  • Government buildings including courthouses, airplanes, and airports 

  • Any private property or business that has prohibited the carrying of firearms 

When you use a firearm in self-defense, your legal standing will depend on where you were when the incident occurred. For instance, most self-defense cases that occur in someone’s house when an intruder enters will not be called into question, due to the state’s Castle Doctrine. However, if you were in public, you may need to prove that you felt your life was being threatened or that you were in immediate danger of serious bodily injury. 

Know Your Rights

If you’ve found yourself in a situation where you’ve been challenged about your use of self-defense or are facing criminal charges for your actions, you need to contact a criminal defense attorney right away. There could be very serious consequences if you don’t provide a strong defense and explanation of your actions. This is particularly true if you’re facing charges related to your actions on public property.  

In these situations, you will have the burden of proof on you to show that you genuinely believed your life to be at risk. If you cannot prove this, you may be facing charges such as assault, manslaughter, or even murder. 

Defend Your Rights

If you live in the Knoxville, Tennessee or Farragut, Tennessee area and are interested in learning more about how your gun rights and the state’s self-defense work together, contact us at the Law Office of Joshua S. Reed. We can help you understand the law so you can better understand your choices and make an informed decision about your future. Call us today to set up a consultation