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Gun nation: Inside America's gun-carry culture

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Yet Americans are hardly monolithic in their views. In a Monitor/TIPP poll conducted in February, a majority of those surveyed said they supported more restrictive gun rights. Southerners, people between the ages of 18 and 24, and those earning between $50,000 and $75,000 a year made up the only major demographic groups where the majority favored less restrictive gun laws. Not surprisingly, gun rights are more broadly supported in factory towns and rural areas than in suburban and downtown zones.

Some of that ambivalence is reflected in Garner, where views on guns don't always fall along predictable lines. Ronnie Williams, for instance, is the town mayor and, as a born and bred North Carolinian, someone you'd expect to be a committed gun rights enthusiast. He isn't.

Mr. Williams, in fact, is proud that he's never owned a gun. Since the state's passage of the more expansive concealed weapons law, he has worked with the town council to designate places where guns remain forbidden.

"On one hand, you have grandpas and grandmas who don't feel that a local basketball game or baseball game is the right place for guns because emotions can get so heated," says the affable mayor who, as any self-respecting local dignitary, is dressed for the Groundhog Day celebration in a tuxedo and top hat. "The other side of the message is, if I'm walking down the greenway and bad guys try to rape my wife or girlfriend, I want to carry my gun so I can kill ... them."

Gazda, on the other hand, probably shouldn't be a gun proponent. He is a refugee from gun-wary New York who grew up in a household of women, which included his mother, grandmother, aunt – and no firearms.

Yet, like many transplanted Northerners, he journeyed south partly to avoid what he considers overbearing government edicts. Gazda lives in an edge-of-suburbia home with a sign at the end of the driveway that warns of "vicious dogs." It refers to two golden retrievers who greet visitors with slobbering affection.

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