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Is it OK to walk through a Tennessee city in a bullet proof vest and carrying a rifle?

TRAVIS LOLLER, Associated Press • Aug 21, 2013 at 7:05 AM

NASHVILLE — A Nashville judge on Tuesday rejected claims that police had no right to arrest a man who walked around downtown last month wearing a bullet-proof vest and carrying an assault rifle.

At a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, Leonard Embody said it was not illegal for him to carry the AR-15, which was in a case made of moldable plastic that exactly fit the outline of the weapon with a magazine and silencer attached. Once the case was open, police found the weapon was unloaded and there was no magazine, but there was a silencer.

"Walking down the street is not a crime," said Embody, who acted as his own lawyer. "Walking down the street with a cased and locked rifle is not a crime. Walking down the street in a bullet-proof vest is not a crime. Walking down the street handing out leaflets on the Second Amendment is not a crime."

But Metro Nashville Police Commander Jason Reinbold said he had no way of knowing whether Embody's weapon was loaded or what his intentions were when police dispatchers began receiving calls from panicked citizens about on July 29.

"I was afraid there was a robbery or an active shooter situation taking place in downtown at one of the busiest times of day for pedestrian traffic," Reinbold said.

The officer found Embody on the street and approached him, but Embody refused to answer his questions, claiming his right to remain silent.

"I asked him about ammunition. I asked him if he had a bomb on his body. I had no idea. This was as frightening as it got for me," Reinbold testified.

Under cross-examination by Embody, Reinbold said, "The weapon itself is not unlawful but if there had been a bullet in the chamber, it would have been unlawful."

Reinbold said that worry and the silencer were justification for Embody's arrest. Reinbold said things might have been different if Embody had been willing to prove on the spot that his weapon was unloaded. As it was, police confiscated it and obtained a warrant to open the case, only discovering that it was unloaded hours later.

Embody is charged with possession of a silencer. In court, he tried to show that he legally owns the silencer, but Judge Michael Mondelli would not allow him to introduce the documents.

Mondelli castigated Embody several times during hearing, once saying, "I understand you have a right to exercise your constitutional rights, but frankly, the way you went about exercising your constitutional rights was completely stupid."

After more than an hour of testimony, Mondelli ruled that there was probable cause that Embody had committed a crime and sent the case to the grand jury.

In 2009, Embody was detained while walking in Radnor Lake State Park with an AK-47-style pistol. In 2010, he was detained in the upscale Nashville suburb of Belle Meade while walking with a .44-caliber black powder revolver in his hand. He also has been stopped in at least three similar incidents, although he was never convicted of a crime.

The state of Tennessee revoked Embody's handgun carry permit in 2010.

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