After a gun rights activist walked down a Belle Meade street with a loaded pistol in his hand, the city decided it needed to clean up an outdated law on its books.
But the change has stirred a wave of opposition from gun rights groups including the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action which made a post Tuesday on its website that claimed the city was trying to ban guns.
“Not only does this legislation create a victim zone inside Belle Meade by disarming law-abiding citizens, it is also a clear violation of Tennessee’s preemption statutes,” the post read in part.
The NRA-ILA urged citizens to voice opposition to an ordinance on the Wednesday city commission agenda.
“There is a rumor going around that we are going to ban handguns, guns in the city,” said Mayor Gray Thornburg.
She said the rumor is a “complete misunderstanding.” The city is merely realigning their ordinance to be in line with state regulations.
“I know that a whole bunch of people in Belle Meade own guns, and I’m sure that there are plenty who have permits to carry,” she said. “They are absolutely right. I wouldn’t violate somebody’s Second Amendment right by banning guns.”
The current Belle Meade municipal code includes a section on firearms and weapons that says “it is unlawful for any person to carry in any manner whatever, with the intent to go armed and razor, dirk, knife, blackjack, brass knuckles, pistol, revolver or any other dangerous weapon or instrument…”
It also includes the phrase “except the army or navy pistol which shall be carried openly in the hand.”
The new ordinance deletes the exception that would include the Navy black powder pistol Leonard Embody carried when he walked down Belle Meade Boulevard in mid-February.
Embody, who is active on many gun rights blogs, first gained attention in December when he brandished a loaded AK-47 pistol at Radnor Lake State Park. At the time, he said he would continue to carry — to test the state’s laws. On several blogs, he said he would go to Bicentennial Mall and to Belle Meade.
“As you probably know, he came into the city [with a Navy model 1851 black powder pistol] basically forcing our hand on the law,” Thornburg said. “The police were expecting him to come, we were expecting him to push buttons.”
She said Embody found a loophole in the law that allowed him to carry the military-style weapon, and the city is amending the law to take off the out of date exemption.
“That’s all we are doing,” Thornburg said. “We’re deleting that particular part which is very, very old. Historically, everybody had that in there.”
Thornburg said the law should have been taken off the books years ago, but likened finding outdated laws to searching for a needle in a haystack.
“We do this on a routine basis,” she said. “Every time a state building code gets changed, we change. When you’re made aware of an ordinance that’s not correct you change it. And that’s really all that we’re doing.”
The ordinance will be before the commission Wednesday on second and final reading. Commissioners can either approve it or defer it, if they think there are too many questions that need to be answered.
“This one, I don’t know,” Thornburg said. “There hasn’t been any conversation on it, but I promise you we have been bombarded with emails.”