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January 20, 2004

Tennessee Handgun Carry Permits, Part I

Last year I got my Tennessee handgun carry permit. Part 1 describes what the class was like, along with a discussion of some of the legal and moral issues involved in using deadly force.

Last Saturday I took the required class to get a handgun carry permit in Tennessee. I took the class at Guncraft Sports in Knoxville. Cost was $75 for the one-day class, including the written test and shooting qualification.

Some other stores offer the class a little cheaper, but I gladly paid a small premium for Guncraft. Their staff has continually impressed me with their knowledge, professionalism, and commitment to safety. Starke has taken the class from another range and from Guncraft, and felt that Guncraft's was the more professional and informative. I was impressed with the instruction, and I'll post more about that later in part II.

The written test is about as hard as a driver's license test. The qualification was 12 rounds at 3 yards, 12 rounds at 7 yards, and 24 rounds at 25 yards. You need a score of 70% or higher to pass. You don't have to shoot with the gun you plan to carry, so you can shoot with a .22 target pistol if you prefer. Guncraft rents guns for $7.50 an hour, and they sell ammo.

If you don't own a gun, I'd recommend renting a gun. You'll learn a lot during the class, and will be better prepared to buy a gun afterwords. If anyone reading this isn't comfortable shooting and would like some practice before the class, email me. I'll take you to the range, pay your fees, and teach you to shoot. No joke. Just email me and I'd be glad to help.

As part of the class, we watched a video from the state of Tennessee that explained the laws concerning carry permits and the use of deadly force. Here are some notes from the video and some of my reading outside of class. Parts of this apply to Tennessee only. For other states, consult your local laws.

Deadly force and criminal law

  • You can use deadly force to prevent death or serious injury to yourself or a third party. Beware of blundering into a scene and making a split-second decision as to who's the good guy and who's the bad guy. You could shoot the guy with the gun, only to find out he's an undercover cop, or another armed citizen like yourself.
  • In Tennessee, if a person illegally enters your home, you have broad rights to use deadly force, even without the threat of death or serious injury. You do not have to retreat, though retreating to a bedroom or other room may be helpful in the event of a civil trial. It may also be helpful for your psyche - shooting another person is not something to take lightly - but if you feel threatened you have to protect yourself and your family.
  • You cannot use deadly force to protect property. If they're stealing a hubcap they're not a threat to life or limb.
  • You cannot use deadly force to make a citizen's arrest, or to stop a fleeing criminal. If they're fleeing they're not a threat to life or limb.
  • You're responsible for all of the shots you fire, including misses that hit innocent bystanders. Use aimed fire. "Spray and pray" is a bad idea.

Deadly force and civil law

  • Even if criminal charges aren't pressed against you, the person you shoot can file a suit in civil court, as can their estate.
  • Even if the person you shoot is convicted of a crime for assaulting you, they can file a civil suit against you. The other guy can literally sue you from his jail cell. What else has he got to do?
  • "Guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt" is the standard for criminal trials. For civil trials, the plaintiff only has to prove a preponderance of evidence. In other words, the creep in jail who's suing you got the benefit of the doubt, not you.
  • In civil court, the state does not provide for your defense. Unlike the creep who was convicted and is now suing you from jail, you have to pay for your own attorney. (Tort reform is sounding better and better, isn't it?)
  • If you shoot someone in your home, your homeowner's insurance will not pay for your defense. Consider Pre-paid Legal, or an umbrella liability policy. Or forget spending money on a gun and get a life insurance policy: if the creep kills you, the insurance company will pay out to your beneficiaries.
  • Cheer up, in spite of all of the above. Even if you get taken to court, you're still alive. It's better to be tried by twelve than carried by six. Want to take control of your life? Put money in your savings account so you can mount a legal defense against the creep or his estate. You invested in a gun and an alarm. Invest in a legal warchest. If you don't use it, it will come in handy for your kids' education or your retirement.

Think about how a jury would see things

  • The next time you're buying home defense ammo and you have a choice between "Marksman" and "Predator" brand, think how "Predator" brand ammo sounds to a jury member who has never shot a gun in his or her life.
  • Keep your defensive weapons close to stock, and never disable safeties. For example, you may know that pinning the grip safety shut on a 1911-style auto will reduce trigger pull by a pound or two. That's all well and good, but the opposing counsel will use that modification against you. "The defendant purposefully disabled one of his gun's safety devices because a hair trigger is more important to him than the safety of human life."
  • If you use hollowpoints, a common strategy for opposing counsel is to accuse you of using "dum dum rounds." He may even mention that expanding bullets are outlawed under the Geneva Convention. This is nonsense, and it's apparently pretty easy to beat: just remember to have someone from local law enforcement testify that they use hollowpoints because they're more effective at incapacitating an assailant, and because hollowpoints are less likely to over-penetrate and strike an innocent bystander.
  • Also consider using Glaser Safety Slugs, which are highly effective incapacitators that are designed to prevent over-penetration. The fact that they have a jury-friendly name is a bonus. You could also take Kim du Toit's advice and use the same ammo that your local police department uses.
  • On the other hand, forget about the myth of "shooting to wound." Shooting is shooting and reflects the use of potentially deadly force, and may result in death despite your best intentions. Shooting someone in the leg to wound them could open their femoral artery, which will cause death by blood loss in minutes.
  • While you don't shoot to wound, you don't shoot to kill, either. Shooting the other guy to stop him may result in his death, but incapacitation, not death, is the goal. Another way to think of it: you don't shoot to kill, you shoot to live. If you don't incapacitate him, he'll kill you.

Where you can't carry a gun

Even with a carry permit, there are lots of places where a gun is off-limits, from the obvious to the not-so-obvious (some laws apply only to Tennessee):

  • Airports
  • Most court facilities
  • Federal parks
  • Public facilities, including city parks and greenways.
  • School grounds, including public schools, private schools, and colleges.
  • There's an exception when dropping off students, as long as the gun stays in the car and isn't handled.
  • Any private property where a notice is posted. In Knoxville, that includes all of West Town Mall.
  • Anywhere alcohol is served. In addition, you can't carry while you're drinking. In Tennessee, there's no threshold or blood alcohol level. No drinking whatsoever is allowed while carrying.
  • Violating any of these laws can result in criminal proceedings and/or the loss of your permit.
  • With all of those restrictions, most of us will keep our guns in the car or nightstand most of the time, and only occasionally carry them. Carrying pepper spray is still a good idea for all of the places where guns aren't allowed. Even when carrying a gun, pepper spray is a good idea, as it's sometimes a more appropriate response to lower levels of conflict.

When you carry a gun, you can't get in fistfights

If you carry a gun, you have to walk away from fights whenever you can, even if it means swallowing your pride. Let's say someone is yelling at you and calling you and yours names. What do you do?

  • If you pull a gun and shoot him for calling you names, you're a murderer, plain and simple. You can only use deadly force when faced with the loss of life or limb.
  • If you punch the guy, things can get out of control. If he starts winning the fight and gets on top of you, do you shoot him? If he pulls a knife, do you shoot him? In either case, you're the one who started the fight by punching him, so you could be guilty of murder.
  • If you draw your gun and try to intimidate him, he may not back down, and you're forced to either back down or shoot an unarmed man.
  • Maybe he isn't unarmed, and drawing your gun will provoke a gunfight.
  • If you get in a fistfight and try to draw your gun in the clench, he could take your gun and kill you. Now he's a murderer and you're dead.
  • The best strategy is to keep your cool and move away. Being called a name never killed anyone. If he follows you and assaults you, you may need to draw your weapon. If so, you're in a better legal position, since you tried to retreat and he initiated the fight.
  • If you're in a tight spot - you can't get away, but there isn't yet sufficient reason to use deadly force - saying "back off, I have a gun" isn't the worst thing you can do. Say it while your hand is on your gun in case he draws his, but keep your finger off of the trigger until you're forced to shoot.

What about carrying your gun out in the open?

Unlike some other states, Tennessee carry permits are permits to carry, not concealed carry permits. That was done on purpose so that you can't be prosecuted for accidentally revealing your gun. However, there are lots of reasons why open carry is generally a bad idea.

  • With open carry, you lose the advantage of surprise. The attacker gets to choose the time, place, and victim. By carrying open, you've revealed your secret weapon.
  • Say you're present in a bad scene, like a bank robbery or hostage situation, such as the recent case at Dyersburg State Community College. The bad guy has 11 hostages and one of them has a gun strapped to his hip. Put yourself in his shoes. Who would you shoot first? (Note that - since it was a college campus - the students and teacher in that class had been legally disarmed by the state. Criminals, crazies, and terrorists will continue to attack where there are victims who are least likely to fight back.)
  • While it seems crazy to attack someone with a gun, the instructor mentioned a motive: maybe the bad guy needs a(nother) gun. Since you decided to carry in the open, the bad guy can see what a nice pistol you have, and since it's your gun it can't be traced back to him.
  • Carrying a gun openly will make lots of people nervous, including friends and family members. It will also attract unwanted attention from police and security guards everywhere you go.
  • If people start carrying in the open, more businesses will post notices that guns are off limits, and there will be fewer and fewer places to carry. Open carry is a losing strategy for our side.

The emphasis in the class was that having a gun is a grave responsibility, and isn't to be taken lightly. We discussed 9/11, and the fact that the fourth plane didn't reach its target because of the actions of ordinary citizens, the very people who comprise the militia mentioned in the second amendment of the Constitution.

What's next?

Now that I've passed the class, I have to go to the DMV and fill out an application. I'll pay $115 (cash, no checks) and the state will run a background check. Applicants must be 21 or older, can't have any felony or DUI convictions, can't be under a restraining order, and can't have been committed for drug or alcohol treatment. It will take about six weeks to get the permit.

For more information - great information on carry permits by state, plus handgun information.
Massad Ayoob - Police officer, firearms instructor, lethal force instructor, gun writer, and expert trial witness in shootings. Read the Ayoob Files for post-mortems on gunfights to see what happened during the shooting, and what happened afterwards at the trial.

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Posted by Les Jones