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Gun nation: Inside America's gun-carry culture

Why Americans now carry handguns in so many public places, from parks to college campuses. Is it making the country safer or more dangerous? 

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This is the cover story in the Mar. 12 weekly edition of The Christian Science Monitor.

Ann Hermes staff photo

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Leaning against a scrub pine as preschoolers scurry about at his feet, Shane Gazda, father of 3-year-old twins, recalls a conundrum he faced earlier that morning: whether to take his Smith & Wesson .40 caliber handgun to a Groundhog Day celebration in this town's White Deer Park.

After all, what was once against the law in North Carolina – carrying a concealed gun in a town park, square, or greenway – is now, as of Dec. 1, 2011, very much allowed. To Mr. Gazda, who likes to shoot targets in his backyard, an event as innocent as paying homage to a rodent could turn dangerous if the wrong person shows up.

"Part of it is being ready for cataclysm every day," says Gazda, a hospital maintenance engineer. "And to be honest, I started carrying precisely to protect not just myself, but my family, and anyone around me who needs help."

In the end, Gazda left the gun at home. But his internal debate is emblematic of one a growing number of Americans are having almost daily. Thirty years after a powerful gun-control movement swept the country, Americans are embracing the idea of owning and carrying firearms with a zeal rarely seen since the days of muskets and militias.

A combination of favorable court rulings, grass-roots activism, traditional fears of crime, and modern anxieties about government has led to what may be a tipping point on an issue that just a few years ago was one of America's most contentious. Gun rights have now expanded to the point where the fundamental question seems not to be "should we be able to carry guns," but instead is "where we carry them?"

The answer: not very many places.

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