Packing in public: Owners not gun-shy
By Nicholas Riccardi
Los Angeles Times
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GEORGE FREY / TPN
Kevin Jensen openly carries his handgun after shopping at The Home Depot in Provo, Utah.
While it's legal to openly carry a firearm in Washington, state regulations say that exhibiting any weapon "apparently capable of producing bodily harm" in an intimidating manner is a gross misdemeanor. In addition, weapons are prohibited in many places, such as courthouses, liquor establishments that are off-limits to minors, and jails. There are a variety of restrictions. For example, you aren't allowed to carry a loaded handgun in a car unless you have a concealed pistol license.
Sources: Seattle Times staff reporter Angel Gonzalez; opencarry.org
PROVO, Utah — For years, Kevin Jensen carried a pistol everywhere he went, tucked in a shoulder holster beneath his clothes.
In hot weather, the holster was almost unbearable. Pressed against his skin, the firearm was heavy and uncomfortable. Hiding the weapon made him feel like a criminal.
One evening he stumbled across a site that urged gun owners to do something revolutionary: Carry your gun openly for the world to see as you go about your business.
In most states, there's no law against that.
Jensen, 28, decided to give it a try. A few days later, his gun was visible, dangling from a black holster strapped around his hip as he walked into a Costco. His heart raced as he ordered a Polish dog at the counter. No one called police. No one stopped him.
He now carries his Glock 23 openly into his bank, restaurants and shopping centers. He wore the gun to a Ron Paul rally. He and his wife, Clachelle, drop off their 5-year-old daughter at elementary school with pistols dangling from their hip holsters and never have received a complaint or a wary look.
He said he tries not to flaunt his gun. "We don't want to show up and say, 'Hey, we're here, we're armed, get used to it.' " But he and others who publicly display their guns have a common purpose.
The Jensens are part of a fledgling movement to make a firearm as common an accessory as an iPod. Called open-carry by its supporters, the movement has attracted grandparents, graduate students and lifelong gun enthusiasts like the Jensens.
"What we're trying to say is, 'Hey, we're normal people who carry guns,' " said Travis Devereaux, 36, of West Valley, a Salt Lake City suburb. He works for a credit-card company and sometimes walks around town wearing a cowboy hat and packing a pistol in plain sight. "We want the public to understand it's not just cops who can carry guns."
Police acknowledged the practice is legal, but some said it makes their lives tougher.
Police Chief John Greiner recalled that last year in Ogden, Utah, a man was openly carrying a shotgun on the street. When officers pulled up to ask him about the gun, he started firing. Police killed the man.
Guns a part of life
As Clachelle Jensen pushed the shopping cart holding their two young children during a recent trip to Costco, her husband admired the new holster wrapped around her waist. "I like the look of that low-rise gun belt," he said.
The Jensens' pistols were snapped into holsters attached to black belts that hug their waists. Guns are a fact of life in their household. Their 5-year-old daughter, Sierra, has a child-sized .22 rifle she handles only in her parents' presence.
Clachelle Jensen, the daughter of a Central California police chief, began shooting when she was about Sierra's age.
"I love [guns]," she said. "I wouldn't ever be without them."
Her husband's first encounter with guns came when he was 11. His grandfather died and left him a 16-gauge shotgun. The gun stayed locked away but fascinated him through his teenage years. He persuaded his older brother to take him shooting in the countryside near their home south of Salt Lake City.
"I immediately fell in love with it," said Kevin Jensen, a five-year member of the Army Reserve. "I like things that go 'boom.' "
Jensen kept up to 10 guns in the couple's 1930s-style bungalow in Santaquin, 21 miles south of Provo. In January 2005, he decided to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, mainly for self-defense.
"I'm not going to hide in the corner of a school and mall and wait for the shooting to stop," he said.
When he bought a Glock and the dealer threw in an external hip holster, he began researching the idea of carrying the gun in public and came upon opencarry.org.
The Web site, run by two Virginia gun enthusiasts, claims 4,000 members nationwide. It summarizes the varying laws in each state that permit or forbid the practice.
According to an analysis by Legal Community Against Violence, a gun-control group in San Francisco that tracks gun laws, at least eight states largely prohibit it, including Iowa and New Jersey. Those that allow it, including Washington, have different restrictions.
Utah has no law prohibiting anyone from carrying a gun in public, as long as it is two steps from firing. For example, the weapon may have a loaded clip but must be uncocked, with no bullets in the chamber.
Those who obtain a concealed-weapons permit in Utah don't have that restriction. Also, those younger than 18 can carry a gun openly with parental approval and a supervising adult in close proximity.
Most of the time, people don't notice Jensen's gun. That's not uncommon, said John Pierce, a law student and computer consultant in Virginia who is a co-founder of opencarry.org.
"People are carrying pagers, BlackBerries, cellphones," Pierce said. "They see a black lump on your belt and their eyes slide off."
Sometimes the reactions are comical. Bill White, 24, a graduate student in ancient languages at the University of Colorado, Boulder, openly wears his Colt pistol when he goes to his local Starbucks. A tourist from California recently noticed him and snapped a photo on his cellphone.
"He said it would prove he was in the Wild West," White recalled.
But there are times the response is more severe. Devereaux has been stopped several times by police, most memorably in December when walking around his neighborhood.
An officer pulled up and pointed his gun at Devereaux, warning he would shoot to kill. In the end, eight officers arrived, cuffed Devereaux and took his gun before Devereaux convinced them they had no legal reason to detain him.
Devereaux saw the incident as not giving ground on his rights. "I'm proud that happened," he said.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company