I am a huge fan of the show Nashville. Last week’s episode ended in Sadie fatally shooting her former abusive boyfriend, with this week’s episode focusing on the legal aftermath. Here’s what Nashville got wrong – and right – about Nashville the state and its gun laws.
First, “unregistered firearm.” There are few states, believe it or not, where this phrase means anything sensible. That’s because most states don’t have registration systems – and Tennessee is not one of them. In Nashville, there’s no such thing as an “unregistered handgun,” which makes another term used in this week’s episode – an “illegal firearm” also confusing. Although certain alterations could turn a handgun “illegal” (e.g., effacing the serial number, turning a semi-automatic to fully automatic) and it’s possible the gun was stolen, there’s no evidence that any of these apply to Sadie’s gun.
What the episode writers probably meant was that Sadie was carrying her gun without a permit to carry. In Tennessee, residents need a permit to carry openly and concealed (although that might be changing). But that’s a permit that licenses a person – not a gun.
Beyond legal technicalities, however, the show does a better job capturing the law enforcement response to women who shoot and kill their abusers in self-defense. Research shows that women who kill their abusers tend to be judged more harshly than men who claim self-defense (Think: Marissa Alexander). However, Sadie’s shooting exhibits a pattern that follows a more “conventional” self-defense scenario (at least as imagined by gun-carrying men): Sadie is a pretty and petite woman who shoots someone already established, on national media, as a “bad guy” when he confronts her in a “dark alley” (well, a dark parking lot) after a period of estrangement. My research suggests that this is a pattern that tends to rouse the sympathy of gun proponents and police alike. Gun laws in some states reflect this: Kentucky, as one example, makes expedited gun carry licenses available to women leaving domestic abuse – after all, one of the most dangerous moments for women facing intimate partner violence. As far as I can tell, Tennessee is not one of these states, and there is plenty of room for debate on these laws. Nevertheless, the producers of Nashville got it right – in a broader, cultural sense – when they decided to write in that the District Attorney dropped Sadie’s charges and slapped her with a misdemeanor.
The Takeaway: Nashville captured the spirit, though not the letter, of contemporary American gun laws in pro-gun states like Tennessee.