A Belle Meade gun law, which the mayor called inappropriate and discriminatory, could soon be updated.
The city’s board of commissioners is floating two proposed ordinances looking to either amend or delete a section of code that prohibits anyone to carry a dangerous weapon “with the intent to go armed” except for an “Army or Navy pistol which shall be carried openly in the hand.”
It’s the second phrase in particular that the board stated harkened back to the Reconstruction Era.
In a March 25 message to residents posted on the city’s website, the board stated the ordinance’s language appeared to be intended to restrict free blacks from owning handguns after the Civil War because mostly white men owned Army and Navy pistols.
That law on the city’s books remained largely unnoticed until Leonard Embody, known as the Radnor Lake Rambo for taking an AK-47 pistol on a walk through Radnor Lake State Park, decided to take a Navy model 1851 black powder on a walk down Belle Meade Boulevard.
Authorities stopped Embody, of Brentwood, in both cases and the incidents made headlines.
That prompted Belle Meade commissioners to look into the law and propose an ordinance that would amend the law, removing the phrase “except the Army or Navy pistol which shall be carried openly in the hand.”
That proposed ordinance passed on first reading Feb. 17 but has been deferred ever since.
After the board introduced the first proposed ordinance, rumors spread that the city would ban the public from carrying handguns, prompting the March website posting by the commissioners.
But as Mayor Gray Thornburg told The City Paper, the city just looked to remove the antiquated law from its books and anyone with a state issued handgun carry permit can carry in Belle Meade.
“The long and short of it is,” Thornburg said, “we realized that we had an ordinance that a) was not appropriate and b) more importantly was very discriminatory, and so we needed to make a change.”
Then in light of the June 28 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Chicago handgun ban, and in talking with the Belle Meade police department, commissioners decided the city might not need the old ordinance at all anyway.
Last week, the Belle Meade board of commissioners passed on first reading an ordinance that would delete the entire section of city code (Title 11-602.)
So it appears either the section of the original ordinance that allows open carry of just a specific type of gun — Army or Navy pistol — would be deleted or the whole section referring to carrying a gun in the open would be deleted because Belle Meade police would enforce the state law anyway.
The thought is, said the mayor, that with the Supreme Court ruling, Belle Meade doesn’t need its own law.
With the two ordinances passed on first reading and one sitting in deferral limbo, Belle Meade commissioners are giving themselves options to “clean up” the gun carry ordinance.
“That’s what we’re trying to do,” Thornburg said. “Clean up what’s not in good shape.”