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Gun nation: Inside America's gun-carry culture

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"People are buying guns to deal with their anxiety of feeling they have no safety or they have this need for their political sense of freedom, but not everybody shares that level of personal threat," says Joan Burbick, author of "Gun Show Nation," a critique of American gun culture. "And when you're going to insist upon this in public spaces or shared spaces like a basketball game or a park, then you're really intruding into where other people get their personal sense of safety."

How did embracing guns become so pervasive, and is the country safer or more dangerous as a result?

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Garner is typical of the towns in America's new "Gun Belt." The community of 26,000 people in the piney woods of North Carolina is decidedly not Northern, but neither is it completely Southern. It is a hamlet of conservative-leaning Democrats, 70 percent of whom are transplanted Yankees.

It marries rural roots with a suburban mind-set, all in a tableau of minivans and Easter egg hunts. Last year, the national Pony League softball tournament (for girls under 12 years of age) was held in White Deer Park. The town abuts more urban Raleigh, which perennially is listed as one of America's "best places to live."

It is here along the edges of America's urban renaissance that the right-to-carry movement is burgeoning, with women, young professionals, and college students among those leading what some call a "new social formation" of heat-packers. On this day, two moms, Barbara Frickman and Angela Reeves, are arriving with their strollers and toddlers to see Mortimer, Garner's famed groundhog. Both question North Carolina's new guns-in-parks law, but then acknowledge that they, too, have concealed-weapons permits.

"Around kids, guns are scary, but jogging on the greenway at night? That's a different story," says Ms. Frickman.

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