Nationally, the Open Carry movement was organized by a pair of law-school students, John Pierce and Mike Stollenwerk, who live in Virginia. Using the slogan "A right unexercised is a right lost," the duo began organizing open-carriers in the Old Dominion State before expanding nationally. OpenCarry.org provides a forum for members to discuss pertinent legislation and legal cases, gun safety, and where you can and can't carry, as well as more esoteric topics such as gun, ammo, and holster preferences.
"Open Carry has been growing since 2004," Stollenwerk explains. "People increasingly see it as a valuable right that augments their concealed rights."
Stollenwerk says the movement has attracted people of different political stripes. Success has followed, as several states have solidified the concept of Open Carry as a right. The latest victory came last month, when Wisconsin's Attorney General reversed rules prohibiting the practice. And in 2006 the Ohio legislature passed a bill pre-empting open-carry bans in individual localities, overriding a gubernatorial veto in the process. In California, Open Carry is allowed only in rural areas, and the movement is trying to garner public support to legalize Open Carry in states like Oklahoma, one of six—with Texas, New York, Arkansas, Florida, and South Carolina—where the practice is banned.
It's difficult to gauge just how many people open-carry. Stollenwerk says his Web site has 18,000 registered members. Last summer, 400 open-carriers attended a picnic in Kitsap County, the movement's largest gathering in the state.
Locally, Washington Open Carry holds informal meetings at Dino's Greek and Italian Restaurant in Burien. The owner has a sign on the door reminding customers that lawful weapon carry is permitted inside. It's at these get-togethers that Open Carry enthusiasts discuss ways to get the word out about the movement, such as adopting a highway.
The local group has been cleaning its stretch of I-5 since last August. Their idea was sparked by a campaign by open-carriers in New Hampshire who picked up trash while patrolling neighborhoods. Starks says that Open Carry groups in Kitsap County and Spokane are considering adopting highways too.
Starks says the goal is to help normalize the movement and to show they are good neighbors. Their efforts might be paying off. When filling out the paperwork with WSDOT, office staff didn't bat an eye about volunteers being armed alongside the interstate. Rather, their only concern was that the Adopt-a-Highway sign couldn't have a dot in the OpenCarry.org url.