Tennessee Will Now Let Felons Possess Guns, but Only if the Guns Are More Than 120 Years Old

A change in Tennessee’s definition of a firearm allows for felons to own a gun provided it was manufactured before 1899.


Convicted felons can now possess guns in the Volunteer State.

The catch? The guns have to be so old they don't technically count as firearms under state law. That also means they'd probably be pretty useless in terms of self-defense.

Earlier this year, the state legislature unanimously passed legislation that amended Tennessee's definition as to what constitutes a firearm in order to make the state's definition the same as the federal government's. Notably, the federal government doesn't consider "antique weapons"—by which the government means guns manufactured prior to 1899—to be firearms. That means, by extension, Tennessee now doesn't either.

State law previously denied felons—including individuals convicted of nonviolent drug offenses—the right to own any firearms, including those classified as antique. However, Tennessee's reaffirmation of a felon's right to own an outdated, ineffective weapon does little to address the fact that nonviolent drug offenders are still being denied their Constitutional right to self-defense in the state.

Reason's Jacob Sullum has written about how "drug prohibition and indiscriminate gun laws conspire to deprive people of the constitutional right to armed self-defense."

For example, in 2018, Krissy Noble, a pregnant woman who used a gun to defend herself after she was attacked in her own apartment, ended up facing potential jail time for her legally justified use of a firearm due to a past felony marijuana conviction in Arkansas. Even though the courts found her actual use of the gun justifiable, her prior felony charges of "possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and possession of drug paraphernalia" (both nonviolent offenses) disqualified her from possessing a gun under Arkansas law. Noble was eventually sentenced to six years of supervised probation and ordered to pay a $2,500 fine for defending herself and her unborn child with the illegally possessed firearm.

While it's encouraging that Tennessee recognizes that flintlock pistols pose little threat to society, it's unclear what tangible benefits the state's new law holds for nonviolent felons, like Noble who are barred from owning firearms and left defenseless.

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  1. That includes some pretty freaking cool guns. In another 10 years it will include even cooler freaking guns.

    1. No,it’s not actually “120 years”, it really is 1898 as the cutoff. It’s a federal definition of “Curio & Relic” firearms which don’t need the same background checks as more modern guns. For instance, I once bought a pack of Mosin-Nagants mail order in California, because even though post-1898, they are on the C&R list. (This was 20 years ago; not possible now).

      1. Antiques made before 1899 don’t have to be on the C&R list, and not all of them appear to be, nor function as antiques in the strictest sense. Case in point, I have seen an M39 (Finnish) Mosin-Nagant bolt action rifle which was “built” by Sako in 1944, but the *receiver* was forged in 1895, therefore it’s considered an antique according to Federal law.

        While they were still available up until a few years ago, you could buy these (legally) antique rifles online and have them mailed to you, no FFL required. C&Rs still require the C&R licensee record the transaction, IIRC.

      2. Curio and Relic is a different definition than Antique. Antique firearms are fixed at 1898 and older, while C&R is a rolling “50 years or older” plus whatever is deemed collectible (like Czech CZ82 handguns from the 1980s)

    2. Winchester 1896 – AKA the Trench Broom FTW.

  2. The Luger started production in 1898

    1. Yeah, and I think the Broomhandle Mauser started in 1896.

      1. That also means they’d probably be pretty useless in terms of self-defense.


      2. The Colt Peacemaker started production in 1873.

        1. But it takes cartridge ammo so it’s not eligible as an antique. It has to be black powder. Get a reproduction 1858 Remington. .44 caliber ball, 30 grains of black powder, hits like a .38 Special.

  3. Get an SAA or a nice lever action rifle with a long tube.

    1. The Colt 73′ SAA and 94′ Winchester are still awesome, and very effective, weapons.

  4. It seems to me that these things are always due process violations unless the judge sentenced the defendant to be restricted from gun ownership for life. They shouldn’t be able to throw you in prison unless the judge sentenced you to prison, and they shouldn’t be able to restrict your Second Amendment rights without due process of law either.

    I’ve never understood the rationale behind one jurisdiction inflicting another state’s sentence either.

    After your sentence was completed in Pennsylvania and you moved to Nebraska, what is it about being convicted of a felony in a county court in Pennsylvania ten years ago that gave the federal government the authority to violate your Second Amendment rights today?

    If you’re supposed to be tried in the jurisdiction in which you perpetrated a crime, it seems to me that your sentence should also be served in that jurisdiction. County courts in Pennsylvania don’t have federal jurisdiction. Why should their sentences be imposed beyond the borders of their jurisdiction?

    If a county in Pennsylvania wants to bring you to court to further impose sentence, then they need to extradite you from Nebraska. If the federal government wants jurisdiction over your case, they need to extradite you.

    1. What, you think logic and reason and written rules apply?

  5. The picture at the top of this article reminded me of a particular scene from a movie.

  6. What does it say about edged weapons?
    A saber is probably better in close quarters than a flintlock, and doesn’t have to be reloaded.

    1. My understanding is that most states do not have specific restrictions on felons possessing weapons other than firearms.

      This is why from the old Dukes of Hazard TV series, the Duke brothers were always using bows.

      1. I’m pretty sure that the state of Georgia frowned upon them tying dynamite to the arrows though.

  7. So does the 94 Winchester have to have been actually manufactured before 1899?

    In some States muzzle loaders of any age or type are ok for felons, The 51′ Navy was Hickok’s favorite, and the weapon he used in the only known street gun draw to actually occur.

    1. They have to have been manufactured before 1899. It can be hard to determine the manufactured date with guns like the 1894 Winchester, 1892 Winchester, Mauser C96 (broomhandle Mauser), and others that were in production long after the 1899 cutoff. Most weapons do not have a manufactured date on them, so manufacturers serial numbers can sometimes be used to establish the date.

  8. “Woo-eee, it’s a good thing that Grant allowed my great-great-great-grandpappy to keep his gun at Appomattox, I’m a-gonna knock over another likker store!”

  9. The masses should not own guns.
    This could lead to counter-revolutionary actions and could start revolts in our glorious proletariat paradise.
    Guns should be the property of The State, our loving Secret Police, the Thought Police and the body guards of our obvious superiors.
    It is only through gun confiscation can our socialist slavers be able to sleep well knowing only they have to superior fire power to suppress any rebellion against our heavenly socialist utopia we all love and live in.

    1. Under no pretext should arms and ammunition be surrendered; any attempt to disarm the workers must be frustrated, by force if necessary.
      -Karl Marx

      1. We do not allow our enemies to have ideas. So why should we allow them to have guns?” – Joseph Stalin

        Now who are you going to believe?
        The man who invented the concept of socialism, or someone who took the time and trouble to murder tens of millions of people?

        1. The man who invented the concept of socialism

          was not Karl Marx.

        2. Depends, are we talking about Marxists of Stalinists?

          1. I don’t think Karl Marx would recognize or embrace many of the people calling themselves Marxists today.

  10. Revolvers, lever actions, the first few pump action shotguns, it might cost you an arm and a leg, but you could actually get some legit guns to defend yourself. And no, I don’t agree that felons who’ve served their time should have their rights taken away. If you feel they’re that big a threat to society, then why are they out?

    1. Most guns that age, even if they use cartridge ammo, were made for black powder and wont take the pressures generated by modern smokeless powder ammo.

      Unless you load your own, finding black powder ammo could be problematic.

      1. I have a British .455 Webley Mark IV with first and second black powder proofmarks, crown over VR, Victoria Regina, Queen Vickie of jolly old England. Probably made about 1899 or so.

        Bought a Lee Loader .45 AutoRim reloading kit at a gun show for $4 (four dollars), been reloading black powder and BP substitute ammo for it for seventeen years now.

  11. That should be a boost to the antiques firearms antique dealer’s business.

  12. Plenty of companies make modern replicas of 1860-70s era guns – the Colt Single Action Army, the Winchester 73, the Henry rifle

    Actual antique weapons would be much more expensive, but they are just as deadly as modern ones.

    Which is why this is silly, as basically it means rich felons can defend themselves, while poor ones can’t.

    1. “Actual antique weapons would be much more expensive, but they are just as deadly as modern ones.”

      Not quite. many of the modern replicas are built with modern materials and can handle much more powerful modern ammo made with modern smokeless powder that generates higher pressures and muzzle velocities than equivalent black powder ammo.

      The antiques mostly wont stand up to modern ammo.

  13. Convicted felons can now possess guns in the Volunteer State.

    See the definition of “antique” firearm here.

    1. Where the caveats are.

  14. Courtesy of the same Legislature that gives a person a statutory right to carry a gun in a bar, but makes it unlawful to carry an automatic (switchblade) knife.

  15. The opinion isn’t clear on whether black powder replicas are included. But assuming they are, as they’re identical to the actual antiques, they’re hardly ineffective weapons. A lead ball or bullet fired from a black powder revolver is just as deadly as any modern pistol.

    The only disadvantage would be that you’re limited to 5 shots, which is enough for most self-defense shootings. And you can always carry more than one gun.

    But I agree that non-violent felons shouldn’t be deprived of their fundamental right to Keep and Bear Arms.

    1. However, the EPA will put you in prison for life for each time you fire the weapon. Black powder makes a really, really big cloud of smoke.

      1. The EPA is so inept that it can’t even pleasure itself, with either hand.

    2. The only disadvantage would be that you’re limited to 5 shots, which is enough for most self-defense shootings

      1856: The LeMat revolver was a .42 or .36 caliber cap & ball black powder revolver invented by Jean Alexandre LeMat of New Orleans, which featured an unusual secondary 20 gauge smooth-bore barrel capable of firing buckshot.

      1. Right you are. The Remington Model 1868 is a good choice also.

        1. P.S. – For those who sniff at .31 cal. ball, I submit that an attacker shot in the head with one will not much care how big the hole is.

    3. The biggest mass shooting in US history occurred in 1862, so yeah, those weapons are pretty dangerous.

  16. “That also means they’d probably be pretty useless in terms of self-defense.”

    Not really. I’ve got a couple of cap’n’ball revolvers, one small enough to conceal easily. I carry it often for quick trips to the convenience store or supermarket. They were purchased with cash and a DL; no BC or record of sale.

    Though I’m clean in the background dept. and have no problem buying firearms (I live in a state that still honors the Constitution), I’m glad I invested in these items, and they most certainly can serve to defend oneself.

  17. If the Dems had their way, that’s all the rest of us would be allowed to own too.

    1. nope, some of those old Winchesters could hold more than 5 rounds.

  18. Arrrr. so BlackBeard has nuttin’ to fear, me mateys….

  19. Progress is progress, even if is slow. I would love to see somebody use this legal argument in California, take it to the State Supreme Court, and make it stick.

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