American gun activists see open carry as a right

Craig Rutherford spent years carrying a gun in the Balkans and in Iraq as a defense contractor. So when he came home to Virginia, he didn’t 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,” Rutherford said.

But Rutherford doesn’t 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,” he added.

His wife, Jadranka, a native of Croatia, will not leave the house without her Magnum 357, tucked into a special handbag she has for packing heat.

In Croatia, I was not thinking about taking my pistol with me, even during the war, it is not the lifestyle there like here,” Jadranka Rutherford said. “When I came here I said, ‘Oh, it is like wild West, like I was watching on TV, guns everywhere. And now I’m walking with gun on my hip.”

There are 258 million guns in the hands of American civilians. Rutherford estimates he’s spent more than $25,000 on his collection over the years.

Some are collectibles—“It's never complete, I mean how many pairs of shoes do you have? I see guns that I would like to get every day.”

Others bring back memories of childhood hunting trips with his grandfather.

Rutherford carries his gun everywhere he legally can—and encourages his teenage daughters and 12-year-old nephew to carry as well.

And it isn’t just Rutherford. The Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) counts 2,500 members. VCDL organizes public events like this environmental cleanup in Carrollton, Virginia where they openly carry loaded weapons at parks, restaurants and other public spaces in an effort to normalize it. VCDL and have opposed every piece of gun control legislation, and their critics say they make the National Rifle Association (NRA) look moderate.

I believe that you should be able to carry a firearm in any manner that you choose on an airplane,” said Travis Fox, a VCDL member.

VCDL has also pushed to have guns allowed on college and high school campuses in Virginia.

“[The] Virginia Tech [shootings], Columbine [school shootings], those are serious things,” said Joseph Ramsey, an open carry advocate from Virginia. “If they don’t allow guns, it’s always the criminal that gets the gun. You can’t have a gun in a gun-free zone. Guns need to be allowed on campuses.”

The Virginia Citizens Defense league is part of the greater Open Carry movement, a well-organized network of gun owners in 37 states. They also organize on the web on their site,

“It builds camaraderie between everyone and it makes it easier to spread the message of open carry,” said Justin Boyd, a National Guardsman.

For some in the Open Carry movement, arming themselves is about more than security. It’s about forming a militia, defending themselves from government tyranny and organizing an insurgency.

David Codrea, a field editor with GUNS Magazine argued open carry is geographic, in many states it is common to see guns, while in other states guns are less common. The friction behind the debate is driven by local views on guns.

Huffington Post contributor and the editor of The Daily Banter, Ben Cohen, explained allowing people to walk around with guns as they do is more of a political statement against the US government, not a call for peace and security or personal rights.

It sounds like making a statement against the current government,” he said. “[It] sounds like nothing to do with public safety.”

Codrea explained this is likely for some in the movement, but many simply want to legally carry their guns. But a political statement is still part of the equation.

Sometimes you need to push the government for liberty,” he pointed out. “Sometimes a little bit of a push is necessary.”

The Obama administration has done little to combat gun right in America, Banter said. There is no reason to create a heightened political statement, he argued, because the administration is not targeting gun rights.

Codrea argued there are those who are pushing restrictions and if gun advocates do not push to keep their rights, they may eventually be taken.