Paul J. Weber

BRYAN, TEXAS: Adam Lanza’s mother was among the tens of millions of U.S. gun owners. She legally had a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle and a pair of handguns, which her 20-year-old son used to kill 20 children and six adults in 10 minutes inside a Connecticut school.

In the raw aftermath of the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history, countless gun enthusiasts much like Lanza’s mother complicate a gun-owning narrative that critics, sometimes simplistically, put at the feet of a powerful lobby and caricatured zealots. More civilians are armed in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, with Yemen coming in a distant second, according to the independent Small Arms Survey in Geneva.

Take Blake Smith, 54, a mechanical engineer who lives near Houston and uses an AR-15 style rifle in shooting competitions.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who famously claimed to have shot a coyote while jogging with a pistol holstered to his running shorts, has signed a half-dozen certificates applauding Smith as one of the state’s top marksmen. Smith’s father first let him handle a gun around age 6.

“I sit at a desk all day. And when I get out to the range, I don’t hear any gunfire going on,” said Smith. “It’s therapeutic.”

In the U.S., gun-control advocates are up against a sizeable bloc of mainstream Americans for whom guns are central to their lives, whether for patriotism or personal sense of safety, or simply to occupy their spare time.

Dave Burdett, who owns an outdoors and adventure shop across the street from the sprawling Texas A&M University campus in College Station, says his affinity for guns is rooted in history, not sport.

“Remember that the [American] revolution was fought by citizen soldiers,” he added. “To this day, that’s one of the cornerstones of our military defense. We have an all-volunteer military.”

Others add safety to the list of reasons for allowing people easy access to guns.

“To me it’s obvious — the more people that have guns, or at least in their homes, it’s more of a criminal deterrent,” said Bill Moos, a taxidermist in Bryan, near College Station.