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Gun nation: Inside America's gun-carry culture

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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.

In that way, the two women represent a new, largely pro-gun demographic. A majority of married women support the right to carry a concealed weapon in America, while single women, on the whole, do not. Overall, 85 percent of Americans support the right to keep and bear arms, according to a survey by Angus Reid Public Opinion. A 1991 poll by the Los Angeles Times put that number at 68 percent.

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