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Gun control: Future hangs on misunderstood majority of gun owners

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"But something very particular is happening to American cities," she adds. "There's a lot of people who are turning to guns in response to what they see as the complacency of their parents, that life isn't a white picket fence, that this isn't a happy suburbia – Mom and Dad were naive, and I'm carrying a gun because I understand how the world really works. It's at the epicenter of this urban, postindustrial decay story" of cities like Detroit, where both gun ownership and justifiable homicides are at an all-time high in reaction to dwindling municipal services, including police protection.

Given the heated national rhetoric, both sides of the gun-control debate sometimes seem oblivious to the fact that, in 2008, Ameri-ca quietly became a majority pro-gun country, according to Gallup. Scholars like Ms. Carlson contend that majority is part of a new, emergent social contract in which the balance of power and social responsibility has slipped noticeably toward the citizen, who increasingly feels a need to back up his or her First Amendment right to free speech with its menacing guarantor, the gun.

Though the NRA's power, even before Newtown, was sinking, American gun culture remains ascendant, with 74 percent of Americans – the highest percentage ever recorded – opposed to banning handguns, and 51 percent supportive of allowing assault-style weapons, according to a recent poll by the libertarian Reason Foundation.

The gun as icon of freedom

And folks don't just want their guns for self-defense. In early February, Pew noted that 53 percent of Americans say the federal government poses a threat to personal rights and freedoms – a nod in part, experts say, to the post-Newtown gun-control push and fears that Democrats are laying a covert path to gun confiscation.

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