The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Man with AR-15-style rifle by bus stop says he wasn’t out to terrify kids

J’Den McAdory waves as he carries his AR-15-style rifle in Severn, Md. (Andre Chung for The Washington Post)
8 min

The man stood in a red Make America Great Again baseball cap pointing his AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle toward the sidewalk.

An elementary school student ran home crying. Parents were terrified. Neighbors called the police. While he had not explicitly threatened people in this suburban neighborhood, just the sight of him walking near school bus stops was enough for the nearby elementary school in Anne Arundel County to delay bus drop-off this week.

“The presence of someone with a weapon at or near a bus stop raises fear and anxiety for students and parents, especially in a day and age where we’ve had a number of school shootings across our country,” said Bob Mosier, the spokesman for the school district of more than 83,000 students.

The man, J’Den McAdory, said in an interview with The Washington Post that he is protesting recent state legislation regarding guns by open carrying his weapon around the neighborhood and that he was not singling out school bus stops. Although it crossed his mind that children — who have grown up practicing active shooter drills and who know that others just like them have been killed by men with big guns — may be scared by the sight of him, he thought he could soothe their fears by simply waving.

“I have remorse because the kids, you know, they were afraid. I have the remorse for that just because they’re still children,” said McAdory, who lives less than two miles from the local elementary school of about 500 students. “But I’m not saying what I’m doing is wrong either.”

Carrying his AR-15-style rifle along neighborhood sidewalks is legal, even in a state with some of the toughest gun laws in the country. According to gun-control advocates and state lawmakers, it will remain legal under the new laws that McAdory is protesting. Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed new gun-control legislation this week, and the National Rifle Association mounted a legal challenge in federal court.

The gun that divides a nation

McAdory, who lives with his parents in Severn, Md., and is 20, said he has been taking these walks with a long gun since February, but tensions reached a peak this past week. An Anne Arundel police spokesperson said in a statement that the department has received “numerous” calls about “an armed subject in a residential community.” The local elementary school’s principal warned people to steer clear of McAdory but lamented that there was nothing authorities could do. He wasn’t doing anything illegal, the principal wrote to families and staff. Police said he is a legal gun owner. It was his constitutional right to open carry a semiautomatic rifle.

Although officials said they do not believe this man has any intent to cause harm, the principal wrote that parents should increase their presence at bus stops, students should not engage with him, everyone should report any interactions with him to the school or police, and school counselors were available for any child who needs to talk about their feelings.

More than 352,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine

“He’s made clear to me and others that he wants to change the stigma of people carrying guns in public,” Mosier said. “I encouraged him to try to understand that while that may be his goal, that’s not the impact he was having on children attending our schools and parents of those children.”

Gun rights activists have been emboldened by a Supreme Court decision in June that expanded the Second Amendment’s reach, sending state lawmakers to try to expand or restrict when, where and how people can own and carry firearms. New rules in Maryland that take effect in October restrict where people can carry their guns, expanding the list of “sensitive places” where firearms are prohibited, such as schools, day-care facilities and hospitals.

Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery), who sponsored one of Maryland’s new laws, said McAdory was demonstrating a “completely inappropriate form of protest” — a point echoed by Moore’s press secretary, Carter Elliott, in a statement calling for partnership “to stem the tide of gun violence and create safer, stronger communities … not shallow acts of cowardice and intimidation.”

When asked if there were aspects of this kind of protest he did not think through ahead of time, McAdory replied: “Everything I did was thought through and calculated.” He later added, “I was telling my dad before all this stuff, I was, like, ‘Positive and negative feedback would be a good thing on this type of thing.’ … It creates conversation about it.”

McAdory said he is trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life. He grew up in the area, graduating from Old Mill Senior High School in Millersville, Md., in 2020, juggles two jobs as a produce worker and driver for DoorDash, and is thinking of enlisting in the Army this summer. McAdory, who likes to hunt, can’t yet purchase alcohol but said that when he turned 18, he bought his first gun — the same one he displayed as he started walking around his neighborhood in February. Recently, he said, he bought the AR-15-style rifle that he now carries for about $500 when he went to a local gun store and learned of “a cheap AR deal going.”

On Thursday, Anne Arundel County Attorney Gregory J. Swain warned in a letter to McAdory that his conduct could lead to criminal charges including assault, stalking, harassment, disturbing the peace and obstruction of school administration, according to a copy of the letter McAdory provided to The Post.

From now on, McAdory said, he won’t be taking his near-daily walks around the times children are going to school or coming home in the afternoon. He tells himself that if he continues walking, just outside of those hours, and shows he is nonviolent, people will eventually be less afraid

“I was walking home and a girl literally just took off running,” McAdory said. “I’m definitely sorry for putting any type of fear in their lives or the children’s lives. That’s what I’m not trying to do.”

But that was exactly what happened, according to interviews with a mother of an elementary school student, the Severn Elementary PTA Board, local police and a spokesman for the school district.

On Monday, one Severn Elementary School parent who lives in the neighborhood was walking her dog with her mother at 10:30 a.m. on New Disney Road when they spotted a man walking calmly with a rifle on his shoulder.

They both stopped and immediately turned around, said the mother, who has a 7-year-old boy at the school and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns. She called the police and was told he was within his legal rights. The mother said the anxiety of many parents mounted when, later that day, her son’s bus did not come, she said, and parents received an alert summoning them to collect their children from the school, citing an ongoing incident.

McAdory’s presence in the neighborhood, near a playground and dog parks where people watch their pets and children play, has led some people to stay inside, she said. Reddit posts written by McAdory talking about forming “a militia” and a “tight brother hood” have circulated among parents as people question his motives.

McAdory said he had turned to Reddit to try to find people who may want to join him on his walks around the neighborhood. After all, he said, it is difficult to be a Black man who is also a Trump supporter in the blue state of Maryland. He chose the language of “militia” and “brotherhood” because they “seemed like the right words to choose.”

“I’m trying to have a peaceful brotherhood. I didn’t say I want to have a gang, the mob,” he said. “[I’m] very hopeful that people might possibly walk with me because you know, it’s hard, like, it’s very hard to spread awareness alone. A man running down the highway by himself looks crazy, but if 100 people were doing it, it looks like a marathon.”

The recipients of his protest already are weary. In a statement to The Post, the Severn Elementary PTA Board described his presence as disruptive.

“Parents have voiced that children are nervous or scared at bus stop times and the bus delays have been inconvenient even where folks understand the need,” the statement reads.

McAdory sees all of this blowback and anger. He’s aware of the terror he has caused. But none of it has bothered him enough to make him stop. He says he remains convinced that if he just keeps being a good guy with a gun, things will change. So on Friday, he put on the same MAGA hat, took his AR-15-style gun out of the case on the top shelf in his bedroom closet, loaded it with a magazine, put on his headphones and went back outside.

This time, though, he wasn’t alone. Word of McAdory’s effort had spread to people who agreed with him, and one of them decided to join him. Walking beside McAdory up the streets and down the sidewalks, the man carried a 12-gauge shotgun.

Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.