No farewell to arms
Some even see their semi-automatics as a last line of defense against the government.
Craig Rutherford, member of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, spent years carrying a gun in the Balkans and in Iraq as a defense contractor. So when he came home to Virginia, he did not see a reason to put it down.
“Being a former deputy sheriff, I felt it was necessary to obtain a concealed handgun permit to protect myself,” he says.
But Craig does not want to just conceal his gun. He wants to carry it out in the open.
“To me it's the constitutional way to carry a firearm and I think if you don't exercise your rights you will lose them,” explains Craig.
His wife Jadranka will not leave the house without her .357 Magnum tucked into a special handbag for “packing heat”.
“In Croatia I was not thinking about taking [a]pistol with me, even during the war,” says Jadranka Rutherford.
She believes the lifestyle in the US is quite different from that of her homeland.
“When I came here, I said, ‘Oh, it is like the Wild West, like I was watching on TV.’ And now I’m walking with a gun on my hip,” she says.
There are 258 million guns in the hands of American civilians and Rutherford estimates he has spent more than $25,000 on his collection.
“It's never complete, I mean, how many pairs of shoes do you have? I see guns that I would like to get everyday,” claims Craig.
And each one brings back memories.
“There's one that's very dear to my heart and it's right back here. This was my grandfather's shotgun and we used to go hunting together when I was a little boy.”
Rutherford carries his gun everywhere he legally can and encourages his daughters and nephew to do the same.
And he is not alone.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League counts 2,500 members. They organize public events like one in which they openly carry loaded weapons at parks, restaurants and other public spaces.
They have opposed every piece of gun control legislation, and their critics say they make the National Rifle Association, America's foremost defender of Second Amendment rights, look moderate.
Schools should also be on the list, believe Virginian gun owners.
“Virginia Tech [The Virginia Tech massacre, April 16, 2007; 32 people killed], Columbine [The Columbine High School massacre, April 20, 1999; 12 people killed], those are serious things. If they don’t allow guns it’s always the criminal that gets the gun, as you can’t have a gun in a gun-free zone. Guns need to be allowed on campuses,” says Joseph Ramsey, gun owner.
The Virginia Citizens Defense league is part of the greater Open Carry movement, a well-organized network of gun owners in 43 states.
“It builds camaraderie between everyone and it makes it easier to spread the message of open carry,” believes Justin Boyd, gun owner.
For some in the Open Carry movement, it is about more than security. It is about forming a militia, defending themselves from government tyranny and even organizing an insurgency.
It only takes 3 per cent…
Travis Fox never leaves home without a loaded gun carried openly on his belt.
“If it is between someone else and my family, someone else is going to die,” says Fox. “I believe that you should be able to carry a firearm in any manner you choose on an airplane.”
For Fox, militia is a state of mind and gun control is carte-blanche for a government that is meant to be kept in check.
“Then the government has absolutely no fear of repercussions and they can essentially do whatever they want,” says Fox. “The definition of tyranny is that which is lawful for government, but unlawful for citizens. They have jet fighter planes, they have machine guns, they have howitzers, they have tanks, and they have nuclear aircraft carriers. The militia today, we are left with semi-automatic handguns, and semi-automatic rifles.”
Fox is a member of the “Three Percenters” – a militia with its own flag, plenty of guns and a manifesto that proclaims it only takes three per cent of gun owners to overthrow the government.
They gathered last year on the banks of the Potomac River with a warning to those in power: “Attempt to further oppress us at your peril.”
“People innocent and guilty alike were going to start dying for their own stupid failure to comprehend the real situation which we are all in,” says Mike Vanderboegh, the founder of Three Percenters.
And send a message that they will not back down.
“Americans are beginning to feel increasingly less like free citizens and more like subjects,” believes David Codrea, co-founder, Gun Truths And Citizens Of America.
More and more of America’s 84 million gun owners say they are tired of compromising on their right to bear arms.
The Three Percenters refuse to acknowledge any new gun control laws.
“We all have a line in the sand and at some point we would all resist,” says David Codrea, the co-founder of Gun Truths and Citizens of America
NRA President Wayne LaPierre recently moved closer to the Three Percenters when he refused President Obama’s invitation even to discuss new gun laws. He asked, “Why should I, or the NRA, go sit down with a group of people that have spent a lifetime trying to destroy the Second Amendment in the United States?”
It was President Clinton who last angered gun owners with the 1994 assault weapons ban which, by his own estimates, cost 20 members of his party their seats in Congress. With the 2012 presidential election looming, tackling gun control might also prove a misfire for Obama.
Watch more in this report from RT's Kaelyn Forde.