|Kevin Jensen carried his handgun on his hip after shopping at The Home Depot in Provo, Utah. (George Frey/Los Angeles Times)|
PROVO, Utah - For years, Kevin Jensen carried a pistol everywhere he went, tucked in a shoulder holster beneath his clothes.
In hot weather the holster was almost unbearable. Pressed against his skin, the firearm was heavy and uncomfortable. Hiding the weapon made Jensen feel like a criminal.
Then one evening he stumbled across a site that urged gun owners to do something revolutionary: Carry your gun openly for the world to see as you go about your business.
In most states there's no law against that.
Jensen decided to give it a try. A couple of days later, his gun was visible in a black holster strapped around his hip as he walked into a Costco. His heart raced as he ordered a Polish dog at the counter. No one called the police. No one stopped him.
Now Jensen carries his Glock 23 openly into his bank, restaurants, and shopping centers. He wore the gun to a Ron Paul rally. He and his wife, Clachelle, drop off their 5-year-old daughter at elementary school with pistols in their hip holsters and have never received a complaint or a wary look.
Jensen, 28, said he tries not to flaunt his gun. "We don't want to show up and say, 'Hey, we're here, we're armed, get used to it,' " he said. But he and others who publicly display their guns say they have a reason.
The Jensens are part of a fledgling movement to make a firearm as common an accessory as an iPod. Called open-carry by its supporters, the movement has attracted grandparents, graduate students, and longtime gun enthusiasts.
"What we're trying to say is, 'Hey, we're normal people who carry guns,' " said Travis Devereaux, 36, of West Valley, a Salt Lake City suburb. Devereaux works for a credit card company and sometimes walks around town wearing a cowboy hat and packing a pistol in plain sight.
"We want the public to understand it's not just cops who can carry guns."
Police acknowledge that the practice is legal in Utah, but some say it makes their lives tougher.
Police Chief John Greiner recalled that last year in Ogden, Utah, a man was openly carrying a shotgun on the street. When officers pulled up to ask him about the gun, he started firing. Police killed the man.
Greiner tells the story as a lesson for gun owners. "We've changed over the last 200 years from the days of the wild, wild West," Greiner said.
"Most people don't openly carry. . . . If [people] truly want to open carry, they ought to expect they'll be challenged more until people become comfortable with it."
Jensen and others contend that police shouldn't judge the gun, but rather the actions of the person carrying it. Jensen isn't opposed to attention, however. It's part of the reason he brought his gun out in the open.
"At first, [open-carrying] was a little novelty," he said.
"Then I realized the chances of me educating someone are bigger than ever using it in self-defense. If it's in my pants or under my shirt, I'm probably not going to do anything with it."