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Gun nation: Inside America's gun-carry culture

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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.

In his backyard, he has a playground set built out of scrap wood. It is here he also likes to practice shooting his guns. He takes out his Smith & Wesson and fires off a round. The sound crackles through the woods. The pistol is large, but, because of its high-tech composite frame, surprisingly light.

"I see it as a tool granted me by the Constitution, plain and simple," says Gazda. "And [the government's] always going to be trying to take that tool away from me."

Gazda bought his first gun five years ago when he got his concealed-carry permit but admits buying several more when Barack Obama was elected president, out of concern that the administration would try to limit gun rights.

He points out that the general decline in the violent crime rate doesn't mean the country isn't dangerous. One day when he left the gun behind, he was accosted, he says, by a convenience store owner who refused to let his two children use the bathroom. "I felt threatened, and since then I always take it with me on trips with the family," he says.

Fear for personal safety is a major reason many people want to be able to own and carry a gun. Some see themselves as a sort of self-appointed family constable.

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