Andrew Purcell, New York

Published on 14 Mar 2010

The “open-carry” movement first came to national attention when armed men began turning up at presidential events last summer, wearing their pistols in full view.

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It might seem hard for the European mind to process, but in the US many gun owners are not content with having a firearm stashed in their house should a burglar attack, they also want to walk down Main Street with a revolver on their hip in public sight – preserving the libertarian standards of the Wild West in 21st century USA: that’s the essence of the open-carry movement.

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The biggest changes in gun law are taking place at state level. Montana and Tennessee have introduced laws exempting guns and ammunition produced, sold and used within the state from any federal regulation at all.

Arizona and Wyoming will soon allow residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit. In Virginia, home of the NRA, Republicans backed a measure to repeal the state’s one-gun-a-month law, but were stymied by a committee packed with Democrats. The Virginia Citizens Defence League is keeping up the pressure, with a proposal to allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons in bars, providing they do not drink.

The VCDL has been at the forefront of the open-carry movement. Member John Pierce founded a decade ago. He believes firearms should only be banned from prisons, courtrooms and beyond the security line at airports. In his worldview, schools, bars and churches would be safer places if they were protected by responsible gun owners, carrying openly.

Mr Pierce equates his cause with the civil rights movement, framing it as a libertarian crusade.

He said: “We’re really doing the same thing that the gay and lesbian community have been doing in their very successful attempts to do away with prejudice against their lifestyle.

“By proclaiming loudly and proudly who they are, they are in fact making people confront their prejudices and move past them. That’s what we want to do with properly holstered guns carried by law-abiding citizens.”