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In Tennessee, Guns and Alcohol Don't Mix

It's Sunday afternoon and you feel like doing some target shooting. Grabbing a six-pack and your pistol, you head out to the Back 40, drink the beer, set up the empty cans, and start shooting. You've just broken Tennessee Code 39-17-1321, which makes it illegal to possess a handgun while under the influence of alcohol or another controlled substance. It's a Class A misdemeanor that carries a potential sentence of up to 11 months and 29 days in jail.

In the example cited above, the chances of getting arrested may not be that great considering the fact that you are in an isolated rural area. But what if you are in possession of a handgun and get arrested for DUI? Or you are arrested following a domestic disturbance? Furthermore, if you are drinking alcohol in a bar or restaurant, you don't even have to be intoxicated to get charged with violating 39-17-1321. Mere possession of a handgun while drinking in such an establishment is enough.

It doesn't matter if you have a carry permit. It doesn't matter if the impairing substance is a drug prescribed to you by your doctor. If you are found guilty of the charge of possession of a handgun while under the influence, you could still be sentenced to jail even if you beat the other charge.

Defenses to This Charge

Every criminal offense has potentially successful defenses, and this charge is no exception. Tennessee Code 39-17-1322 explicitly states that displaying or possession of a handgun while intoxicated is not an offense when:

  • The person is engaging in justifiable self-defense.
  • The person is engaging in justifiable defense of someone else during the commission of a crime in which the person or the other person defended was a victim.

There are other factors that could result in a not guilty verdict or dismissal of the charge. The law does not define what "under the influence" is. That's up to a jury or bench trial judge to determine. And there are many complex issues surrounding the legal definition of what constitutes "possession" that could provide a viable defense.

If you have been arrested for possession of a handgun while under the influence, speak to an experienced weapons crimes defense lawyer as soon as possible.

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