New legislation in Tennessee would let licensed gun carriers hold property owners liable for injuries they suffer in certain incidents in “gun-free zones.”

The ongoing debate over the risks or merits of "gun-free zones" has drawn attention to a challenging issue: balancing the rights of property owners against the safety of visitors. As many people in Clinton might agree, private property owners should be able to exercise control over their own property. Problematically, though, a property owner's decision to ban guns may also put visitors in unnecessary danger.

A bill that was recently introduced in Tennessee seeks to address both of these issues by establishing greater liability for these property owners. This legislation could make it easier for people injured during various violent incidents in gun-free zones to hold property owners accountable.

Covered incidents

Property owners in Tennessee can generally be held liable if they fail to protect visitors due to inadequate or negligent security. The new bill provides that property owners who prohibit visitors from carrying guns accept even greater responsibility for ensuring the safety of those visitors, according to The Tennessean. If these property owners fail to prevent certain incidents from occurring, causing visitors to suffer personal injury or death, they may be found liable. These incidents include:

  • Violence involving other people who are lawfully present, such as visitors or employees
  • Domesticated or wild animal attacks
  • Violent incidents involving trespassers

The bill also provides that people hurt in incidents involving "defensible man-made and natural hazards" may have legal recourse. However, the bill does not provide specific explanations or examples of these hazards.

Enhanced liability

This bill diverges from established premises liability law in providing that a property owner could be liable even for incidents that occur beyond the limits of his or her own property. The bill specifically considers situations in which a visitor suffers harm while crossing other property to reach the location where his or her gun is stored. In these cases, according to the bill text, the property owner who enacted the gun-free zone may be held liable.

Legal limitations

It is important to note that this legislation only offers protection to people who hold gun permits. To bring a claim under the bill, a person would have to show that he or she had a valid license to carry a gun when the incident occurred. The person would also have to prove that the property owner had posted a sign banning visitors from carrying the gun.

The law also only applies in cases where property owners have a choice about prohibiting visitors from carrying guns. If state or federal law requires a property to be a gun-free zone, the owner cannot be held liable under this bill.

Assessing liability

If this bill succeeds, it could make it easier for injury victims to seek recourse from property owners in certain situations. However, as the terms of the bill illustrate, determining whether a property owner is liable for a visitor's injuries can be a complex issue, and proving liability can be even more challenging. As a result, anyone who has suffered harm on another person's property may benefit from consulting with an attorney to determine whether legal remedies may be available.


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