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VOL. 130 | NO. 74 | Thursday, April 16, 2015

Lawyers: AG Opinion Bars Felons From Having Antique Guns

AP

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The Tennessee attorney general's office appears to have changed its position on whether felons can legally possess antique guns.

A 2008 opinion issued by then-Attorney General Robert Cooper said felons could lawfully possess the older weapons. However, state law has changed.

The latest opinion by Attorney General Herbert Slatery says violent felons and drug felony offenders cannot possess antique muzzleloaders using black powder, even if they are hunting with them. But legal experts called the opinion confusing and said it seems much broader in scope.

The opinion was in response to questions posed by Mount Juliet Republican Sen. Mae Beavers. Beavers asked whether felons and those convicted of domestic violence could get a hunting license and, if so, what they would be allowed to use to hunt.

Even though felons and those convicted of domestic violence are generally restricted from possessing guns, exceptions exist for antiquated firearms.

Federal law defines antique guns as those manufactured through 1898 or replicas if they are not designed to use fixed ammunition. Muzzle-loading rifles, shotguns and pistols that use black powder or a black powder substitute are allowed.

Those barred from having weapons because of past criminal convictions have been hunting with the muzzleloaders, said John Harris, a Nashville attorney who is executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. Now, he fears his clients might be in trouble for using them.

"If this opinion is right, they could be sent to prison as a felon in possession of a firearm," Harris said.

He and Nashville attorney John M.L. Brown, who is a firearms instructor, called the opinion confusing. Neither lawyer was sure just how far the opinion went in limiting the antique guns.

Harris put the blame on the legislature, saying it created conflicting laws.

"Tennessee laws are so unclear and conflicting that it's almost impossible for the state's top legal authority, the AG, to answer a simple question in a manner that people can understand," Harris said.

The opinion did say that felons can get a hunting license but they cannot supervise a minor who is hunting unless they can lawfully possess a firearm.

Those convicted of drug and violent crimes, the opinion said, could still hunt with a crossbow and other archery equipment.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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