If you’re going to be a gun person, please do so responsibly. Know your craft — and the laws that govern it. Regardless of whether you agree with those laws, you should still want to know them and conduct yourself accordingly. Below are excerpts from relevant cases and statutes in Tennessee (I hope to add more states as time allows). I’ll also occasionally make comments on cases and statutes in my blog posts too.
Cases and statutes should always be read in conjunction with one another. The code itself is written by the legislature, but the true meaning of the law is teased out in the courts. Judicial opinions offer crucial insight on the direction, speed, and strength of prevailing legal winds. They also give us concrete examples of how abstract statutes are applied in real life. Here’s what I’ve put together on this page, in a nutshell:
- The Tennessee Self-Defense Statute
- The Tennessee Deadly Force Statute
- The Tennessee Castle Doctrine (presumption of reasonableness)
- Exceptions to the Castle Doctrine
- Tennessee Statute on Mutual Combat & Provocation
- Nuclear Fun Fact
- Castle Caveat
- Tennessee’s New Campus Carry Law
- Court Cases:
*Note: Tennessee’s SYG provisions are codified in the self-defense and deadly force statutes (“no duty to retreat”).
I’ll do my best to keep this page updated, and I hope you find it helpful. But please remember that your knowledge level is your responsibility, not mine. There is no legal defense in the known universe that begins with “According to Front Sight Press….” That ain’t gonna fly.
Tennessee Self-Defense Statute
T.C.A. § 39-11-611(b)(1)
[A] person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and is in a place where the person has a right to be has no duty to retreat before threatening or using force against another person when and to the degree the person reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force.
Tennessee Deadly Force Statute
T.C.A. § 39-11-611(b)(2)
[A] person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and is in a place where the person has a right to be has no duty to retreat before threatening or using force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury, if:
(A) The person has a reasonable belief that there is an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury;
(B) The danger creating the belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury is real, or honestly believed to be real at the time; and
(C) The belief of danger is founded upon reasonable grounds.
“Not engaged in unlawful activity” seems like a relatively small loophole, assuming it’s only applied to botched drug deals and such. On the other hand, if you happen to be jaywalking or littering when the proverbial stuff hits the fan, theoretically a bored prosecutor could give you a few gray hairs. I’m not sure why the legislature put (C) in there, since (A) already says the belief has to be reasonable. But hey, there it is.
Tennessee Castle Doctrine – General Rule
T.C.A. § 39-11-611(c)
Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury within a residence, business, dwelling or vehicle is presumed to have held a reasonable belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury to self, family, a member of the household or a person visiting as an invited guest, when that force is used against another person, who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence, business, dwelling or vehicle, and the person using defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred.
Note that in Tennessee the presumption also applies to your vehicle. However, in order for the presumption to apply at all (anywhere), the unlawful entrant must use force. Stepping through an open door doesn’t count.
Tennessee Castle Doctrine – Exceptions
T.C.A. § 39-11-611(d)
The presumption established in subsection (c) [Castle Doctrine statute quoted above] shall not apply, if:
(1) The person against whom the force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, business, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner, lessee, or title holder; provided, that the person is not prohibited from entering the dwelling, business, residence, or occupied vehicle by an order of protection, injunction for protection from domestic abuse, or a court order of no contact against that person;
(2) The person against whom the force is used is attempting to remove a person or persons who is a child or grandchild of, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used;
(3) Notwithstanding § 39-17-1322, the person using force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, business, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity; or
(4) The person against whom force is used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in § 39-11-106, who enters or attempts to enter a dwelling, business, residence, or vehicle in the performance of the officer’s official duties, and the officer identified the officer in accordance with any applicable law, or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person entering or attempting to enter was a law enforcement officer.
In other words, you can’t claim Castle Doctrine against your roommate, or against someone picking up his/her kid, or against a cop. Oh, and the Castle Doctrine doesn’t apply to crack houses and whatnot.
Tennessee Mutual Combat & Provocation Statute
T.C.A. § 39-11-611(e)
The threat or use of force against another is not justified:
(1) If the person using force consented to the exact force used or attempted by the other individual; [or]
(2) If the person using force provoked the other individual‘s use or attempted use of unlawful force, unless:
(A) The person using force abandons the encounter or clearly communicates to the other the intent to do so; and
(B) The other person nevertheless continues or attempts to use unlawful force against the person…
Nuclear Fun Fact:
Incidentally, if you attempt to compromise a nuclear power facility, the guards can kill you. Just sayin’. T.C.A. § 39-11-611(f).
The castle doctrine (presumption of reasonableness) only applies if your house has a roof. No joke. T.C.A. § 39-11-611(a)(5).
Tennessee’s New Campus Carry Law:
Hallelujah! The General Assembly recently passed a bill that allows full-time faculty and staff at public universities to carry on campus IF (1) they are concealed at all times and (2) they have a valid carry permit. They also have to “register” with the campus law enforcement agency, but there’s a confidentiality clause that’s supposed to prevent the agency from spilling the beans and getting people black-listed by all the anti-gun academicians. The ink is barely dry on this law, and many of the free online databases have not been updated yet, but the new language will appear at T.C.A. § 39-17-1309(e)(9) through (e)(11) (most of the important language is contained in subsection nine).
The “True Man Doctrine” (SYG)
State v. Renner, 912 S.W.2d 701, 704 (Tenn. 1995)
Under the “true man” doctrine, one need not retreat from the threatened attack of another even though one may safely do so. Neither must one pause and consider whether a reasonable person might think it possible to safely flee rather than to attack and disable or kill the assailant… Moreover, this doctrine applies only: (1) when the defendant is without fault in provoking the confrontation, and (2) when the defendant is in a place where he has a lawful right to be and is there placed in reasonably apparent danger of imminent bodily harm or death….
As in all cases of self-defense, the force used must be reasonable, considering all of the circumstances. Moreover, the “true man” rule implies no license for the initiation of a confrontation or an unreasonable escalation of a confrontation in progress.
Whether the “true man” rule applies in a particular case is a matter to be determined by the jury. The jury determines not only whether a confrontation has occurred, but also which person was the aggressor. It also decides whether the defendant’s belief in imminent danger was reasonable, whether the force used was reasonable, and whether the defendant was without fault.
Objective Reasonableness in Tennessee
State v. Bult, 989 S.W.2d 730, 732 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1998)
[T]he defenses not only entail what a defendant actually believes, but include, as well, what is a reasonable belief under the circumstances. This means that the defendant’s conduct and mental state must meet an objective standard of reasonableness for the conduct to be justified under these statutory defenses. Thus, the mere fact that the defendant believes that his conduct is justified would not suffice to justify his conduct…
In other words, if your defense is “he looked scary as hell to me,” that dog don’t hunt in Tennessee. Wait, I sense the makings of a B-list rap song here…