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Tucson shooting spotlights US shift on gun control

Since the Tucson shooting on Jan. 8, federal gun control advocates have made little headway and many states are considering expanding gun rights. Why?

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The NRA's growing political clout is witnessed by the speaker list at its last two annual conventions. It included Sarah Palin, presumed 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, then-Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, and Republican Governors Association head Haley Barbour of Mississippi.

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Yet, in many ways, the NRA is merely seeking to corral a grass-roots revolt. Through the blogosphere and talk radio, gun-rights advocates have returned the gun-rights movement to its Second Amendment core: that gun rights are a bulwark against the perceived expansion of government power – a basic tenet of America's unique tradition of rugged individualism.

"The gun has become the symbol of the conservative vision of freedom," Joan Burbick, author of "Gun Show Nation: Gun Culture and American Democracy," told the Monitor in 2009.

At a pro-gun rally at the Virginia capitol on Jan. 17, gun-toting protester D.J. Dorer told The Associated Press that incidents like the Tucson shooting should not be used as an excuse for "destroying the Constitution."

To some, such as the liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, such reactions are evidence of national paranoia, rooted in irrational fears of minorities and a predilection for violence. "[We're] a nation that invades other countries, that has a huge weapons budget, seems so intent on violence being the answer, and I think that's the thing we want to dance around," he told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow after the Tucson shootings.

But evidence that guns promote violence is mixed. Only 1 percent of gun deaths come from people protecting themselves from attack, according to a 2009 study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

During an assault, the same study found, a victim with a gun is 4-1/2 times more likely to get shot than an unarmed one. In all, 100,000 people are injured or killed by gunfire every year in the US, and the gun-homicide rate here is 20 times higher than it is in most other developed countries.

Yet Arizona, which more than any other state, perhaps, embodies America's Old West credo, has less gun violence per capita than does Washington, D.C., where guns are far more restricted.

The next frontier for gun-rights advocates is "open carry," epitomized last year by protests in which permitted gun owners carried firearms in plain view at Starbucks coffee shops. But the gun-rights community is split over the issue, keenly aware that a misreading of the American public's view of the Second Amendment could backfire.

"The idea that we should look like the Old West, with everybody carrying a pistol on their hip, that's where public opinion is not yet clearly ready to go," says Franklin. "Open carry is out there on the frontiers and it's not clear [gun-rights advocates] have won the public on that issue."

IN PICTURES: States with the strictest gun laws

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