American gun owners call for cowboy holsters to be worn in public
Tom Leonard in New York
Last Updated: 12:52AM BST 10/06/2008

A growing number of Americans are exercising their right not just to own guns but to carry them around in public.

As a debate continues in Washington over the constitutional right to gun ownership, supporters of the so-called "open carry" movement argue that sidearms should be precisely that - a common accessory to be worn freely.

Their right to wear their gun, usually on a holster at their hip, as they go about their day is protected in state laws that override any constitutional ruling in the US capital, they claim.

The founders of OpenCarry, an internet-based organisation that offers advice on gun carrying, say they now have 5,000 members.

They regularly get together for social events, such as pistol-packing picnics, as well as helping each other with legal advice.

Their website, whose motto is "A right unexercised is a right lost", offers guidance on where it is legal to wear a gun openly.

It includes state-by-state advice on the rules covering restaurants, travelling and - most controversially given the Virginia Tech massacre and other shootings - colleges.

John Pierce, the co-founder of OpenCarry, said yesterday that they were trying to remind Americans of their rights.

Mr Pierce, a computer consultant from Virginia, told The Daily Telegraph he wears his Glock 9mm semi-automatic on a side holster every day, including in the office and when he takes his children to the playground.

Often, people didn't even notice it, he said. "People are carrying pagers, BlackBerrys, cellphones, They see a black lump on your belt and their eyes slide off."

He said that while many US states had in recent years allowed people to carry concealed guns, owners tended not to realise that they were also entitled to bear them openly.

Although confrontations with police are common, such incidents had declined as law enforcement agencies became aware that it was not against the law, he said.

Many of his own members were police officers, he added. "We're not part of real crime, we're law-abiding citizens. It's simply a visible aspect of a civil right."

Gun control groups say at least eight states largely ban public gun carrying, including Iowa and New Jersey.

Other states have specific restrictions. Utah, for example, allows the practice so long as the gun is two mechanical steps from firing, such as being uncocked and having no bullet in the chamber.