- After the Colorado shooting, CNN iReport asked to hear from gun owners
- The reasons for gun ownership in the U.S. are varied and not easily explained
- "Firearms are a way of life," many owners said
Guns are an American pastime. A way to feed a family. A way to protect a family.
A way of life.
Those are some of the words gun owners use to describe their relationship with firearms and the powerful emotions that stir up when they talk about them.
In the days after a gunman killed a dozen theater-goers in Aurora, Colorado, talk turned to gun ownership, access and restrictions, as it often does after mass shootings.
CNN iReport went to the firearms owners and asked for their perspective. We received more than 400 iReports from gun owners. The stories of gun ownership in America and the feelings behind it are diverse and not so easily explained.
Here are five things they want the world to know:
Jason Bostic, a firefighter and information technology director in Fredericktown, Ohio, grew up around firearms and now owns guns for protection, recreational shooting, competition, hunting and investment. When seconds count, he feels confident knowing he could defend himself against a violent criminal.
He is aware that gun ownership comes with heavy responsibilities. That has meant attending hunter safety courses, shooting workshops, specific training for pistols, rifles, shotguns and self defense, among other instruction.
Bostic is the father of a toddler, who he already talks to about guns. When the time is right, he will teach his boy how to properly handle firearms so the child can pass on the family tradition.
"He doesn't touch them, he doesn't play with them, and there is no free-willy-nilly pointing toy gun at people," Bostic wrote. "He asks questions when they are out or when I am cleaning and doing work on them and they are answered. Most importantly my guns are secured."
Too many children are exposed to the fantasy weapons of video games and not real ones, says Ilidio Serra. He calls himself a "Democratic liberal" but also feels strongly that the more he can take the mystery and glamour out of firearms for his 11-year-old son, the safer his child will be.
He thinks other parents should do the same.
He knows how that sounds -- an 11-year-old who has his own guns and a mother who allows it. But maybe, he says, "if more families worked towards how to safely handle firearms, we would have less firearm accidents."
"Never being exposed to a real weapon by someone who loves them does not allow them to learn what an improperly handled weapon can do," Serra said. "With all the video games, kids have become too desensitized to what a firearm really is and what it does. All they get to do is just shoot away ... score some points and never really think about what it really does."
Alexis Frazier, 29, grew up fearing guns. But as she grew older and spent time with hunters and shooting sportsmen, she learned "they are vital tools for survival and have a special culture attached to their use."
Living in Idaho, she now owns pistols, shotguns and rifles for hunting and sport shooting, and says guns "can be a gateway to a wonderful sportsman lifestyle." She believes gun owners have a responsibility "to be kind and sensitive to folks who don't have exposure to firearms. There is so much fear surrounding this issue and I think mutual understanding and respect can replace this fear if people try."
Jason Lee Van Dyke, a lawyer, pistol instructor and competition shooter in Aubrey, Texas, echoed the sentiments of other gun owners when he wrote, "shooting is about more than hunting and self defense. It is about having fun."
"Fun is the reason many people purchase these so-called 'assault rifles,' because let's face it, the AR-15 is incredibly fun to shoot," he said. "Nobody 'needs' a Ferrari either -- but a Ferrari is a heck of a lot more fun to drive than a Kia."
Self-described country kid Layland Oberschulte, 24, has never had to use a gun for self-defense. But she keeps a loaded handgun in her nightstand and an unloaded revolver in her vehicle. "Some people might say move, find a better city to live in, whatever. I'm happy where I am and I'm happy with my ability to protect myself," she said. "Those skills come from a lifetime of safe gun training and ownership."
In Ashland, Ohio, Christina Roberto didn't know anything about firearms until she bought her first gun and learned to shoot a couple years ago. She felt that was her duty as a mother, "in a world where fewer and fewer people take responsibility for their own thoughts, words and actions."
Putting her gun into its holster each morning has become as routine as slipping into a pair of pants or shoes, says Leslie Murray, a mother in Kennedale, Texas. She got her concealed handgun permit about a year ago.
When she's with her daughter, she no longer worries that something bad will happen to either of them.
"I know there are still bad people out there," she said. "I feel a peace of mind knowing that the bad people that commit crimes now have one more person secretly fighting against them."
William Cates works the night shift. It comforts him to know his wife sleeps next to a revolver.
"And it comforts her as well," said Cates, 22, of Calhoun, Georgia. "She knows how to be safe with a gun, and how to use it."
It's a point we heard many times. If a gun owner could have carried his weapon into the theater that night, he might have wounded or killed the shooter -- or at least saved some lives. Commenters debated it at length on CNN.
"I would have shot back," Paul Lambert, 28, a veteran in Southern Indiana, wrote in his iReport. "If nothing else, the attacker would have to focus on the civilians shooting at him instead of all the unarmed people running around."
Perhaps. But more likely, it's wishful thinking to believe "you could have stopped the whole thing, if only you had been there with your .38." said Grayson Cash, an airline pilot who owned his first gun at 13 years old.
"As someone who has some firearm and self-defense training, I find it laughable to think that the average Joe, in a dark theater filled with teargas, could take out a well armed and armored assailant with a five-round .38 special," he said. "Arming more people will only eventually end in an accidental death."
Cash said he rarely fires weapons now, except for at the shooting range, and believes there should be strict rules for firearm purchases.
"I do not think the solution is to arm more people. I think the solution is to figure out what is triggering these people to do this, and to work on that."