Loopholes in Tennessee Allow Dangerous People Legal Access to Firearms

Early Sunday morning in the parking lot of an Antioch Waffle House, a man wearing only a green jacket and armed with an AR-15 rifle exited his car and opened fire.  He hit a Waffle House employee who was standing outside on a break and a customer walking into to the restaurant.  Both were killed.  He then entered the restaurant and continued to fire until an unarmed man wrestled the rifle from his hands.  Disarmed, he fled the scene, leaving his rifle behind and dropping his jacket near the scene.  There were fully loaded rifle magazines in the jacket pockets.  The entire incident transpired in a matter of minutes.

By now, it has been widely reported that the shooter, who was originally from Illinois, had a long history of disturbing behavior, including breaching a restricted area of the White House grounds that led to his arrest in the summer of 2017.  Following an interview with the Illinois FBI, his Illinois firearm license was revoked.  Revocation of his Illinois license meant that he was required to dispossess, or give up, his firearms, three rifles and a handgun.  His father agreed to hold the guns for him.  He subsequently and inexplicably returned the guns to his son.

One of those guns was the AR-15 used to kill four people early Sunday morning.  One of them was the loaded handgun found in his backpack when he was apprehended.

In Tennessee, had the shooter’s father returned his son’s guns to him, he would not be charged with any crime. We’re still waiting on authorities in Illinois to interpret their dispossession law, but in Tennessee, it’s pretty straightforward.

Also, it was fully legal for the shooter to possess those guns, all of them, in Tennessee. Illinois gun laws are significantly stronger than ours. In Illinois, to purchase or possess firearms, you must have either a conceal carry permit or or firearm license, known as a firearm owner ID (FOID) card. His Illinois firearms license was revoked, so it was illegal for him to possess guns – IN ILLINOIS. We have no such requirements to purchase or possess guns in Tennessee. So, since he had no felony convictions, wasn’t under an order of protection, wasn’t a convicted domestic abuser, and had not been involuntarily committed, he was allowed to legally possess (and purchase, if he wanted) firearms here.

This means that until the shooter exited his vehicle and pulled the trigger of that AR-15, the only thing he could have been cited for was indecent exposure.

Even if he was prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms here, even if he could not pass a background check, in Tennessee it would be incredibly easy for him to obtain a gun without a background check.  In fact, due to our extremely lax firearms laws, the FBI considers Tennessee a “source state” for illegal gun trafficking.  Prohibited purchasers can go online to a gun exchange site like Armslist, pick out firearms they wish to purchase, and make arrangements to meet the seller in person.  They give the seller cash, the seller gives them the firearms.  Those guns can then be trafficked to other states and sold to criminals who will then use them to commit armed robberies, assaults, and homicides.

When organizations like Safe Tennessee say we need to strengthen gun laws, we don’t mean take your guns away. We mean close these gaping loopholes. When the NRA says we need to enforce the laws on the books, know that many of the laws on the books are toothless.

What can be done?

We could pass legislation that would make it unlawful for a person to buy or possess a firearm if they have been subject to suspension, revocation or confiscation in Tennessee or other states, including those with stronger, more comprehensive gun laws.

We could pass legislation that would require a person taking possession of guns to sign an affidavit acknowledging that it is a felony to give a firearm to a person who has been legally required to dispossess their firearms.

We could pass legislation that would require that all gun purchasers must undergo a background check.  Over 83 percent of Tennesseans favor expanding background checks.

Recent polling shows that 58 percent of Tennesseans want to see Tennessee firearm laws strengthened.  This is a 24 point increase from just two years ago, a very significant increase.  Tennesseans, including gun owners, understand that strengthening laws and closing loopholes is in the interest of public safety and in no way violates the second amendment.

Whether or not our legislature will listen to their constituents is an open question, and one that will unfortunately have to wait until the 2019 legislative session.