12 August 2014

Are Concealed Weapons OK in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cades Cove?

Since the Guns in Parks law came to be in 2010, many people still have some confusion about what the law really means. Can you carry a concealed weapon in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? What is the difference between being on the North Carolina side and the Tennessee side of the Smokies? Can you carry in Cades Cove? What if you're camping or picnicking or hiking?

According to Dana Soehn with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Public Affairs Department, the law generally means that if you can legally possess a gun under all applicable laws, then it's OK to possess a firearm throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park -- unless it's a building where federal employees are regularly present. These facilities are well posted and include the visitor centers and park administrative buildings, where you absolutely can not possess a firearm. However, possessing a firearm in historic buildings like those dotted throughout the Cades Cove Loop Road, Soehn said, is OK since there are no employees regularly stationed in them.

These Red Rock Rover shoulder sling bags make
carrying a concealed weapon easy while hiking.
So, if you are legally permitted to carry a concealed weapon, then it's OK to have that weapon on trails, in campgrounds and picnic areas throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the visitor's responsibility, Soehn explained, to understand and comply with all applicable state, local and federal laws. In both Tennessee and North Carolina, the permit holder must have their permit in their possession at all times when carrying a handgun and must show the permit at the request of a law enforcement officer.

Both Tennessee and North Carolina now recognize a valid handgun permit, firearms permit, weapons permit or a license issued by another state according to its terms, and will, therefore, authorize the holder of the out-of-state permit or license to carry a handgun. That means both states will recognize any state's valid permit or license, even if they don't have a written reciprocity agreement with the other state, and even if that state does not recognize a Tennessee or North Carolina permit.

In North Carolina, if you are approached by a law enforcement officer, you must disclose the fact that you have a valid handgun permit and inform the officer that you are in possession of a concealed gun. You must present valid ID and the permit to the officer.

According to the North Carolina Department of Justice Website, North Carolina began automatically recognizing concealed carry permits issued in any other state effective Dec. 1, 2011. Out-of-state permit holders should familiarize themselves with the state laws pertaining to concealed carry.

For instance, in North Carolina, like in Tennessee, you can't carry a concealed handgun in any space occupied by state or federal employees. They also don't allow handguns in any business that has a sign posted banning concealed weapons, by anyone consuming alcohol or in areas of assemblies, parades, funerals or demonstrations. However, effective Oct. 1, 2013, unless posted as being prohibited, a concealed handgun is permitted while at a parade or funeral by North Carolina authorities.

So, the laws do tend to change from year to year and it truly is the individual's responsibility to find out what the law says about your right to carry, no matter where you are at the time.

Soehn provided this link to read the Park's regulations: National Park Service Gun Laws

The carrying of rifles or shotguns is also per applicable state and local laws. Tennessee's law, for instance, says you can have a loaded rifle or shotgun in a privately owned vehicle if you have a handgun carry permit. It also says, however, that ammo can't be chambered except in the case that you feel physically threatened.

Do you need to carry a gun in a National Park? You can't kill a bear with it, because that's obviously breaking a totally different law. You can't target practice or hunt with it since hunting and shooting aren't allowed in the National Park. It would be strictly for protection. As anyone with a concealed carry permit knows, the only time you would theoretically use your weapon is in a life or death scenario, unless of course you are target practicing somewhere besides the National Park.

But I'll save that debate for another blog post down the road.


  1. The carrying of guns depends on the gun laws for that particular state. Different gun laws are there in different country and so people migrating from one country to another must know that the country/state they are going to carry their weapon should not violate the gun laws. Thank you Cynthia for writing this informational post.

    Best Regards,
    MA Firearms School

  2. I read that Post and got it fine and informative.
    Tom Cris

  3. "You can't kill a bear with it, because that's obviously breaking a totally different law." and "As anyone with a concealed carry permit knows, the only time you would theoretically use your weapon is in a life or death scenario"

    These two comments seem to be contrary to each other... I would think its perfectly acceptable to kill a bear with a weapon if you are in imminent danger of being attacked.

    1. I completely agree with your point

    2. You may not kill a bear, though in self defense you are justified in the use of the gun to kill the bear, thus based on what I was told by the TWRA agent I asked about it, you would not necessarily be charged with a firearms violation, though you COULD still be charged with a felony poaching charge at the discretion of the investigating officers. You would then have to challenge that charge in court. You are in my opinion far less likely to get in trouble for shooting a charging hog, or rabid coyote than you are for shooting a charging momma bear because you accidentally got between her and her cub. Shoot some deer that is attacking you and you might need video proof that aggravating it was purely accidental and the shooting was required to prevent being further mauled :)

    3. If you use a firearm to "defend" yourself against a black bear, especially in a national park, you'd better be damn sure the entire encounter is on video, with seven witnesses and multiple camera angles, and you had better be chewed up, clawed, and test positive for rabies. Otherwise you're going to prison. The penalty will be considerably stiffer than if you were found guilty of manslaughter.

  4. I would think it obvious that you weren't poaching. I don't know too many folks who hunt bears with handguns. Just a thought.

  5. Btw mark, poaching a bear does not carry a stiffer penalty than manslaugter. You might want to study up on laws and penalties before you toss stuff like that out there. That being said, I wouldn't recommend committing either act.