Nearly 60 gun rights activists have got together in Falls Church,Virginia, in anticipation of the success of the gun control legislation.
They are celebrating what they expect will be the successful enactment in Virginia of legislation expanding gun rights for residents. Republican Governor Bob McDonnell has pledged to sign the measure.
AdvertisementWith gun control legislation stalled at the federal level in Congress, a number of states have taken matters into their own hands to make it easier for residents to pack heat.
As many as 43 states already have some form of open-carry laws that allow citizens to carry firearms in plain view.
"Gun laws (authorizing openly carrying weapons) and popularity of gun ownership have been going up considerably," said Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, carrying a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol strapped to his belt.
Many gun rights proponents feared that President Barack Obama's administration would take steps to curb gun ownership, but Van Cleave said this has not happened.
In fact, says John Pierce, co-founder of the pro-gun group Opencarry.org, Obama "has done more for us than anybody in recent history," by spurring gun owners to organize at the grassroots level. Also positive, they said, was Obama's decision to allow guns on Amtrak trains and national parks.
"There is absolutely no reason for gun owners to feel insecure at this point," he said.
According to some estimates, roughly 200 million guns are in circulation in the United States in a population of just over 308 million.
Only seven states ban the carrying of firearms openly.
In Virginia, where residents can already openly carry firearms, the new law would expand gun rights to allow concealed carry permit holders to bring loaded weapons into establishments that have a liquor license, including bars, nightclubs, restaurants, pizza parlors and bowling alleys.
"It's legal here, it's been a right since the beginning of the country," says gun owner Rose Brahin, a retired 64-year-old secretary.
"We need to protect our right because if you don't use it they are going to take it away."
Even mass killings like the 2007 shootings of 31 people at Virginia Tech University, a short drive away, have not shaken the conviction of gun rights proponents.
"I carry a firearm for personal protection. I openly carry to show my support for the Second Amendment (to the Constitution) which is our right to bear arms," said 23-year-old student Elizabeth Webb, carrying a Smith & Wesson .38.
"It's a personal responsibility to defend your life in the event of an attack."
Ray Fary, a 53-year-old equipment operator, said carrying a gun is becoming more accepted.
"In most places I go, they treat the pistol as if it may as well be a cellphone or something else you carry under the belt," he said.
Coffee shop giant Starbucks Corp. was forced recently to wade into the gun rights debate, reluctantly saying it would allow customers to openly carry firearms into its stores, as long as they are in compliance with local laws.
The decision sparked outrage among anti-gun activists.
"I don't think having at the next table a guy with a gun is a relaxing way to drink a coffee," said Jill Lucas of the group Protest Easy Guns, which is pressing for more background checks on gun owners and tougher gun control laws as a way to stem gun violence.
While gun rights activists say Virginia is the vanguard, others say the state is asking for trouble.
Virginia Beach police chief Jake Jacocks wrote to the governor, "We can fully expect that at some point in the future a disagreement that today would likely end up in a verbal confrontation, or a bar fight, will inevitably end up with gunfire if you sign this legislation into law."