(WZTV) A Nashville woman whose college graduation photo thrust her into the national spotlight is once again generating buzz after walking around Music City openly carrying a firearm. However, her message is not one you might expect.
Brenna Spencer first ignited debate in April when she posted her University of Tennessee Chattanooga graduation photo on Twitter. The viral photo shows Spencer with a "Women for Trump" shirt and a firearm in the waistband of her pants.
It's been shared more 17,000 times and has over 16,000 comments. While the photo sparked some debate, Spencer says it's changed her life for the better.
"I've heard from women saying I inspired them to take steps to defend themselves and get their concealed carry permits," Spencer told FOX 17 News. "This was never what I planned although I love having a bigger platfrom and being able to empower women to protect themselves."
I open carried for the first time in Nashville today. I must say I’m not a huge fan of open carry but this was an eye opening experience.— Brenna Spencer (@BrennaSpencer) August 23, 2018
I definitely got some looks and people asking if it was legal but other than that it was good experience.
That feedback is one reason why she has continued to share similar photos on her social media profiles.
"My mentality is the first rule of not being a victim is not looking like a victim," Spencer said. "Avoiding becoming a victim is why I promote it. I hope more women get their carry permit because as we've seen in the news recently, sometimes just saying no isn't enough."
Now four months later, Spencer decided to see how people would react if she walked around Nashville with her Smith & Wesson .380 openly.
"I definitely got some looks and did have some people comment or ask if it's legal but really, I didn't have a whole lot of confrontation," said Spencer who admits she is very careful not to break open carry laws since she has risen to internet fame. Her Twitter account ballooned to more than 60,000 followers within hours of her posting her graduation photo.
Ironically, Spencer says she's not a fan of open carry: "I'm not a fan because I don't necessarily like people knowing I carry 24/7 and don't like the weird looks."
Spencer says the experience gave her a chance to speak with others on the topic, something she welcomes: "If people want to have a civil conversation, I'm open to that. But if you can't have a normal conversation and have nothing but hate, I will ignore it."
Spencer posted photos of the experiment on her Instagram page, voicing her love and support of her hometown's gun laws, "Love Nashville, such a beautiful city but love even more that I'm able to protect myself in this city."
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WTVC) — There is strong reaction to a tweet of a picture that appears to be taken outside of the Hunter Museum of Art in Chattanooga.
It was tweeted by Brenna Spencer April 7.
It shows her wearing a shirt that says "Women for Trump" and what appears to be a handgun sticking out of her pants.
The caption states "I don't take normal college graduation photos..."
As of Monday afternoon it was retweeted more than 6,000 times and had more than 50,000 likes.
Hunter Museum of Art officials tell us they have a no-gun policy that applies both inside and outside on the property. They say the picture "doesn't appear to comply with the policy."
Monday afternoon they updated the gun policy signs posted on the front door to comply with changes made to state law this year.
We spoke with Mark Haskins about the picture.
He worked 30 years in law enforcement with the Chattanooga Police Department and is now the lead firearms instructor at the Shooter's Depot.
"She's pulling up her shirt to expose it, so probably she has it concealed," Haskins said. "I don't have any adverse reaction to that."
Haskins has been teaching Tennessee handgun permit classes for more than 20 years.
He says although it's legal in most places, he's not a fan of openly carrying a gun. He recommends concealing the gun for safety reasons.
"The other thing is it just disturbs some people so sometimes you get an adverse reaction, so if it's concealed nobody knows the difference."
I’m 100% pro gun but brandishing a firearm for a photo shoot or showing it off to try and look cool is just stupid. They are tools. Why brag about carrying a gun?— Reed (@osellr) April 8, 2018
A Twitter user named Reed tweeted one of the top responses to Brenna's photo.
"I'm 100% pro gun but brandishing a firearm for a photo shoot or showing it off to try and look cool is just stupid. They are tools. Why brag about carrying a gun?"
Because I’m proud of my second amendment right and I want to empower other women! Absolutely they are tools but I will always brag about being able to carry a gun to protect myself, my friends and my family!— Brenna Spencer (@BrennaSpencer) April 8, 2018
Brenna tweeted back: "Because I'm proud of my second amendment right and I want to empower other women! Absolutely they are tools but I will always brag about being able to carry a gun to protect myself, my friends and my family!"
She also tweeted Monday that she was wearing a belly band.
That's good, according to Mark, who recommends wearing a proper holster.
We asked Chattanooga resident Chloe Dereueter her thoughts. She's not a fan of Trump, or guns.
"I don't think she should have taken this picture at all. I think it's ignorant," Dereueter said.
"The second amendment guarantees us certain freedoms, it's guaranteed by the Constitution is the way I look at it," Haskins said.