Understanding the 'Guy With the Gun'

Group of gun owners make point of openly displaying their guns

Ed Levine said he remembers when people at his favorite restaurants used to know him as "the guy with the gun."

It's a label that's faded, the Virginia man said, as more people like him have chosen to openly carry their handguns while running everyday errands. Levine said he carries his 45-caliber pistol nearly everywhere he goes, from his local Starbucks to his community pool, and he rarely draws attention.

"It's like putting on your socks -- you do it every day," he said. "Someone doesn't run up to you and say, 'Oh, you're wearing socks.'"

The practice of "open carry" at retail stores -- carrying a handgun in plain sight -- has come under fire from anti-gun activists in recent weeks after open carry proponents tested California's gun laws by bringing their guns with them to several Golden State stores, including Starbucks.

In response, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence called on the coffee giant to ban firearms at its stores. The group is concerned about accidental firings, untrained gun owners and the welfare of those "who want to enjoy their coffee without putting themselves at risk of gunshot," Brady spokesman Doug Pennington said.

The Brady petition demanding a Starbucks gun ban now bears 28,000 signatures, with some signers saying they'll choose other coffee retailers, including Peet's Coffee and Tea, which recently announced it would prohibit guns at its shops, the spokesman said.

A Starbucks spokesman declined a request for an interview about the open carry issue, instead providing a statement: "For Starbucks, the safety of our customers and partners is a paramount concern. We have existing security protocols in place to handle situations related to safety in our stores. We will continue to adhere closely to local, state and federal laws and the counsel of law enforcement regarding this issue."

Meanwhile, two chains in addition to Peet's, California Pizza Kitchen and California-based Buckhorn Grill, have said they're banning guns at their stores.

While the Starbucks controversy may soon force more businesses to confront their gun-carry policies -- retail analyst Lori Wachs says that, until now, most chains have opted to avoid the hot button issue -- it's also raising the profile of the open carry movement and groups like OpenCarry.org.

The online community claims at least 26,000 members. OpenCarry.org co-founder Mike Stollenwerk said he and fellow Virginian John Pierce started the Web site in 2004.

The year before, Stollenwerk and several friends caused alarm at a Reston, Va., restaurant when they showed up for dinner with their guns in their holsters. At the time, even police officers called to the restaurant were confused about the state's open carry law, Stollenwerk said.

Confronting 'Prejudice' Against Guns

Stollenwerk and Pierce said they founded the Web site to educate people, including law enforcement officials, about open carry rights across the states. Though many states require permits for the concealed carrying of firearms, most don't regulate open carry.

The group is also working to "normalize the open carry of firearms," Pierce said.

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