The number of shootings in the schools and streets of America has done little to dampen the enthusiasm of thousands to assert their Second Amendment rights. The movement to bear arms publicly at all times is significant and growing.
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 in an effort to normalize it.
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.
“I believe that you should be able to carry a firearm in any manner you choose on an airplane,” says Travis Fox, gun owner.
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.