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Gun-toting soccer moms a scary thought in D.C. area, but not out west

The full embrace of guns is fervent in Montana, where nearly two-thirds of all households have firearms.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

PHOENIX -- In the red rock and sand of the Arizona desert, just past the retirement villages and golf greens that have made this sun-worshipping city famous, sits the biggest public shooting range in the United States.

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Not far away are the Wal-Marts where Arizonans pay Sun City retirees to wait in line when a new ammo shipment arrives, lest the supply run out. Residents have the right to carry handguns openly, and starting last month residents who have no criminal records and are at least 21 also are able to carry concealed weapons just about anywhere, without the bother of getting a permit.

The full embrace of firearms is just as fervent to the north in Montana, where nearly two-thirds of all households have firearms. Montanans feel so strongly about their right to own guns for hunting, fending off grizzlies and -- if it comes to it -- fellow humans that lawmakers passed a measure last year that challenges the federal government's authority to regulate guns made and kept in their state.

(Break-in victim sues after police deny concealed handgun permit)

This is the gun culture of the American West, and it is from here that the latest challenge to the District's firearms laws has come. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have proposed a law that they say would sweep away overly stringent regulations imposed by the D.C. Council after the Supreme Court struck down the city's 32-year ban on handguns.

Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) said the McCain-Tester bill could gut the District's regulatory powers, including laws that are stricter than most states about keeping guns away from people with records of domestic violence. He also said the law shows a disregard for the realities of the District, where guns mean drive-bys, holdups and intimidation more than sport, tradition and the American way.

"The national debate about guns just misses that they are very different cultures," Mendelson said of the District and much of the rest of the country. "It's like a psychology, a mind-set, as to how people as a group think about guns."

McCain and Tester declined requests for interviews. But their bill reflects a philosophy that seems part of the American West's genome. Even Arizona's flag, based on a design created by the team captain of the former territory's rifle team during a national rifle match almost a hundred years ago, symbolizes the way guns are woven into the state's politics and culture, whether for self-defense or sport.

"You think golf forces you to focus -- try holding a deadly weapon in your hand," says Pamela Gorman, who helped ease gun laws as a state senator and is running for Congress.

Gorman, who frets that no one makes stylish holsters for her Glock .45, ran a campaign ad showcasing her skills with a machine gun. The ad was mocked by MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, but Gorman says she has never flinched from backing the Second Amendment and likes to talk of bonding at the range with her 14-year-old son, Ryan, and his AR-15 rifle.

"I kind of think it's terrific that he likes to go out and shoot off rounds, and he takes dance class, and he's in theater, and he plays football," Gorman says. "It's just part of an all-around American kid's experience."

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