A champion of the Second Amendment is vowing to exercise his constitutional rights by parading around Bicentennial Mall with a loaded AK-47 assault pistol slung across his back, but even fellow gun advocates are denouncing his behavior as a foolish publicity stunt.
The man identified by police as Leonard Embody, 37, already has caused a stir by donning miliary garb and going for a walk with his weapon at Radnor Lake State Park last weekend. Alarmed hikers alerted rangers, who detained Embody and questioned him in the parking lot. He showed them his state permit to carry a handgun, and he eventually was released without charges once police determined his weapon is a pistol and not a rifle.
It's legal for permit-holders to carry pistols openly in state parks under one of several new laws adopted by the legislature this year to loosen restrictions on guns. More than 250,000 people have permits to carry handguns in Tennessee.
Embody, who declined to talk with The City Paper, is saying on Internet chat rooms that he’ll take his weapon to downtown’s Bicentennial Mall, another state park, next week. Police say they have issued an advisory for officers to look out for Embody, but “it’s just a heads up” if he scares people again.
“It’s a pistol, and he has a right-to-carry permit,” police spokeswoman Kristin Mumford says. “If we get calls from a concerned public, our officers can talk to him about it, but that’s it.”
On pro-gun Web sites, Embody complains that he was detained for 2 ½ hours by park rangers and police at Radnor Lake, a popular place for family outings just south of downtown Nashville.
“[A] ranger jumped out with a shotgun pointed at me and yelled at me to stay still and put the weapon on the ground,” Embody writes. “After I put the weapon down he told me to move away which I did. He then told me to put my face on the ground and my arms on my head. I complied. I think he had a gun trained on me the whole time, but I couldn’t see. He searched me quickly and put my AK into the truck.”
Embody says he will complain to police and the Metro Council about his treatment.
“Next week when I open carry the AK-47 in a Nashville state park (Bicentennial Mall) I better not be detained longer than is necessary to check my permit and determine I'm not a safety hazard. I will have an audio recording as well.”
He adds: “I'm not doing anything illegal by carrying an AK47 pistol. A Smith and Wesson .460 revolver will kill someone just as dead. … I find it ridiculous that cops will make up laws on the spot just because they do not like how you look or what type of firearm you carry.”
In another comment, he says, “I guarantee that when I carry in Bicentennial Mall I will be stopped. You're more than welcome to come and watch or video.”
Embody is getting online criticism as a prankster who could turn public opinion against laws allowing handgun carrying. Some commenters also are objecting because Embody capped the tip of his pistol’s muzzle orange, a sign commonly used to show the weapon’s actually a toy. They say police were right to be suspicious of Embody because of his strange behavior.
Mike Stollenwerk, co-founder of the pro-gun Web site OpenCarry.org, likens Embody to the protester who drew public outrage last summer by openly carrying a handgun outside one of President Barack Obama’s town hall meetings.
In an e-mail to The City Paper, Stollenwerk says: “Many people in the open carry community are not very happy with this fellow's apparent stunt to carry a ‘handgun’ that looked like a long gun slung over his shoulder, and capped with an orange tip to make it disguised as a toy — no wonder the police took an interest and investigated the guy. Had they seen a person wearing a normal handgun in a proper holster on a walk, they probably would have just said ‘hello.’”
Stollenwerk writes that Embody “slung his pistol over his back almost as if he was baiting the police to mess with him — very poor form and not helpful.”
In a statement, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which oversees state parks, says:
“The department is dismayed that someone would carry a weapon into a state park seemingly with the intent of testing authorities and the boundaries of the new gun law, while alarming others who want to enjoy the park.
“There have been reports that Mr. Embody intends to bring the AK-47 pistol into another state park. Park rangers will react as the law allows. Anyone visibly carrying a gun is treated the same way. Those park visitors are stopped and their carry permits verified. If there is question about whether the gun itself is legal, that will be verified as well.”