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Gun nation: Inside America's gun-carry culture

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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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"There's a kind of Second Amendment reconstructionism going on which has to do with Western individuality, freedom from coercion ... moving about and not having to explain your business to people," says Brian Anse Patrick, a University of Toledo professor and author of "Rise of the Anti-Media," which documents the gun rights movement's underground presses. "They may not think Washington is their friend, and they're certain that bureaucrats are working against their right to own guns. But it has less to do with resisting government authority and more about family: 'I want to be able to defend myself, I want the right to travel and refrain from fear, and this little .38 special here helps me achieve that.' "

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