Barnidge: 'Open carry' ignites a discussion about gun rights
By Tom Barnidge
Contra Costa Times columnist
Posted: 01/11/2010 01:59:00 PM PST
Updated: 01/11/2010 05:29:55 PM PST

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Here's one aspect of the debate that may surprise. Open carry is hardly a new issue, and it's widely accepted throughout the U.S. That's open carry with a loaded weapon.

Go ahead, put your heart back in your chest.

According to, an online gun-rights community with 25,000 members, only seven states deny the right to walk the streets with a handgun on your belt — New York, Illinois, South Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma and, brace yourself, Texas.

Fourteen states require a permit, but 28 do not. Holster up, slap in a clip, you're ready to go.

"Most states have very liberal carry rules," said Mike Stollenwerk, co-founder of "that's where California is odd man out."

Stollenwerk, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, believes that guns in the right hands curtail crime. (The NRA agrees, citing University of Chicago professor John Lott, author of "More Guns, Less Crime.")

Law enforcement's view? Rupf supports the right to own firearms but not a gun on every belt.

More guns in pressure situations, he said, "will lead to increasingly violent results."

So what comes next, a return to frontier days? Maybe we're already there.

"More people carry guns in America than you might think," Stollenwerk said. "Our country is a sea of gun freedom." (An NRA spokesperson said there are at least 5 million handgun permit holders.)

One question: Why?

"I carry a gun for self-defense," Stollenwerk said, "and I've found that open carry has the upside of helping to normalize gun ownership. I don't get much reaction from people anymore."

Maybe that's what the Livermore demonstrators seek. Either that or they're just puffing up their underdeveloped egos.