America’s gun democracy, locked and loaded
Just across the river from the US capitol lies the Commonwealth of Virginia. A state where one can still experience a slice of the traditional American life. It's a place where rolling hills and tranquil farmlands offer refuge from concrete urban jungles. A place where red white and blue is proudly displayed wherever you look.
But here in Virginia, freedom isn't just symbolized by the American flag – but by the barrel of a gun.
“It definitely is a sign of freedom to be able to own one," Mike, a Virginia gun-owner, said on his way out of a popular local gun shop.
And one handgun every thirty days was all that one could buy in Virginia, until last month. In February, Governor Bob McDonnell signed into law legislation that repeals Virginia’s prohibition of purchasing more than one handgun per month. Virginians are now free to buy as many guns as they want.
The law was originally passed in 1993, at a time when Virginia was the gunrunning center of the East Coast. More than 40% of the 1,200 guns found at New York crime scenes in 1991 came from Virginia. The law was intended to curb gun trafficking, but many Virginians felt it curbed freedom instead.
"It’s not anyone's business how many guns I own or how I buy them or who I buy them from," one gun owner told RT. "We have the second amendment for a reason.”
It's a victory for gun enthusiasts, one that they say gives them more freedom. But for much of the world, Virginia's definition of freedom may seem bizarre.
From tragedies like the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre – the worst mass shooting in U.S. history – to gun battles in war zones abroad, for many people across the globe guns represent violence and bloodshed.
For for gun-owners like Jim Hanson, a Retired US Special Operations Master Sergeant, guns belong in the hands of American citizens.
"The safest person in the world is someone who is legally carrying a firearm," Hanson said. "America is a country that was founded with a basic understanding that guns aren't a bad thing."
There's a famous quote from Clint Eastwood in the popular 1966 Western film, "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly."
"You see in this world there are two kinds of people, my friend," Eastwood says in the film. "Those with loaded guns, and those who dig."
And there are few "diggers" to be found in America, the most heavily armed nation in the world. Americans own more guns, and use them more often to kill each other, than citizens of any other advanced Western democracy. As of 2007, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms reported that there were approximately 294 million guns in the United States, nearly one for every man, woman, and child in the country: 106 million handguns, 105 million rifles, and 83 million shotguns.
And in gun shops all across Virginia, people just cant seem to get enough firearms. Whether its handguns, assault rifles or shotguns, sales are better than ever.
"They are booming," said Dave Rojas, an arms dealer and instructor at the popular Blue Ridge Arsenal. "They are definitely through the roof right now."
And in a country where guns often mean freedom, that trend isn't likely to change anytime soon.
"An armed society is a polite society," Rojas said. "We are here because of guns, as bad as it may sound, but we’ve defended ourselves and we are the free nation that we are because of guns.”
Thirty years after a powerful gun control movement swept the country Americans are embracing guns with a zeal unseen since the days of muskets and militias. For many in the United States, freedom is symbolized by the barrel of a gun. It's Democracy, locked and loaded.