Dent Myers has a friendly presence, rheumy eyes, a firm handshake, a long matted beard that hides his age - at first - and a pair of Colt M1911 .45s. He wears the guns, loaded and holstered, over his denim shorts as he pads about his cluttered American Civil War memorabilia shop in the town of Kennesaw, Georgia.
Tourists like to have their photographs taken with Dent, and to poke around his long, narrow shop - properly known as Wildman's Civil War Surplus and Herb Shop. For 25¢ he will pull aside the chain that divides the front room from the back, where he keeps a collection of Civil War long arms and revolvers, as well as his collection of excavated artefacts.
Asked why he carries the two automatics, Myers says in a molasses drawl, "Well, actually they keep me balanced. If I was just wearing one, I'd spend all day walking around in circles."
Gently pushed, he takes the question just a little more seriously. "Well, actually it's like sucking your thumb, they are a pacifier.
"Criminals are dumb but they are not stupid. They are going to go where the pickings are easy. These are a deterrent."
Right at the back of the cluttered store by a rack of army surplus coats stands a mannequin wearing what appears to be Ku Klux Klan robes yellowed with age. On its chest is a badge that says, "Fear the Govt that fears men with guns."
People in Kennesaw, a town made famous in 1982 by passing a law making it compulsory for the "head of every household" to own a firearm and ammunition, tend to have firm views on gun ownership.
he 81-year-old Kennesaw attorney Fred Bentley snr sits in his office in a neat blue suit surrounded by his treasures - a clutch of fossilised dinosaur eggs, an ancient Egyptian burial mask, a shipping document bearing the faded signatures of president George Washington and his secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson - and explains how he came to write the Kennesaw law, a story that begins 1000 kilometres north, on the banks of Lake Michigan.
There, in 1981, when the gun control movement was at the height of its powers, the town of Morton Grove, Illinois, banned its citizens from owning guns. The law offended the Kennesaw mayor, Darvin Purdy. But worse than the law itself, Bentley says, was the support it received in what today would probably be called the mainstream media.
"They made an awful fuss," he says with a flick of his hand.
Purdy decided to knock Morton Grove off the front pages, and had Bentley draft Kennesaw's gun law. Bentley and his son drew up the ordinance, dodging constitutional problems by granting exceptions to the mad and the infirm, to "paupers" and to conscientious objectors. The law passed with the full support of the council, and it later survived a federal court challenge by a civil rights group.
Bentley remains proud of the Kennesaw gun law. He claims crime rates plummeted, particularly for burglary, and the law attracted new citizens and tourists. Best of all, a point was made to the sneering north.
Somewhere in the gulf between Kennesaw and Morton Grove, you can come to some understanding of America's attitude towards guns.
It has not always been this polarised. Guns have always been part of American life. Settlers fled European persecution, armed themselves and defended colonies.
They seized their freedom from the British with guns and, when they came to form a government of their own, they were so suspicious of any centralised authority they made the right to bear arms the second of the 10 amendments they call the Bill of Rights.
In the American imagination, government does not grant certain rights to individuals, rather individuals grudgingly cede some of their God-given rights in order to allow a limited government to be formed.
This is the basis of US individualism and it is still deeply felt. Many own guns because they do not expect the government to protect them even if they had faith it could. Others view the government as a threat.
Robert Jones is a Pennsylvanian by birth who moved south in later life and made a beeline for Kennesaw when the law was passed. It made sense to him.
These days, Jones runs the local historical society and has written widely on the Civil War and the Kennesaw gun ordinance.
Sitting in the local museum, he turns to Jefferson when he tries to explain how the suspicion of government plays into the thoughts of some gun advocates. "God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion," he recites.
This suspicion the government could quickly turn on its people is not uncommon in pro-gun circles. "That's why we have a second amendment, it's not to go raccoon hunting."
To many, then, the right to bear arms is not a right, but the right. Without it, all the others are moot.
Still, by early last century there was a growing view that the right to bear arms could be responsibly restricted for the public good, says Adam Winkler, professor of constitutional law at the University of California and author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America.
Back then, the National Rifle Association, which emerged from the Civil War to encourage marksmanship, advocated forms of gun control. This was the case until 1977, when violence was sweeping American cities and the NRA's leadership was co-operating in government plans to restrict the sales of so-called Saturday night specials - the cheap, easily concealed revolvers often used in crime.
A group of NRA hardliners led by Harlan Carter staged a coup and replaced the NRA leadership. Suddenly an organisation once concerned with safety training and recreational shooting became a fierce single-minded lobby dedicated to defending the second amendment in any form.
It has successfully seen restrictions on types of firearms repealed, increased the spread of laws protecting the right to carry concealed weapons and spread laws protecting people who use their weapons to kill or maim if they perceive they are under threat in their home or, more recently, on the street.
By the 1994 election, the group was powerful enough to start knocking off congressmen who dared disagree with them, prompting Bill Clinton to write in his memoir, "The NRA was an unforgiving master: one strike and you're out. The gun lobby claimed to have defeated 19 of the 24 members on its hit list. They did at least that much damage and could rightly claim to have made [Newt] Gingrich the house speaker."
By 2004, the NRA had the Republican Party walking in step and the Democrats intimidated. It flexed its muscles by having the ban on assault rifles - like the one used in Colorado last week - abolished.
At the moment, its power seems unassailable. Since the shooting in Aurora, a handful of Democrats have called for new gun controls or, at least, renewed debate over them.
The independent mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, has been the most outspoken critic of the NRA. On Thursday, in the news service he founded, Bloomberg, he wrote: "The NRA is a $200 million-plus-a-year lobbying juggernaut, with much of its funding coming from gun manufacturers and merchandising. More than anything, the NRA is a marketing organisation, and its flagship product is fear. Gun sales jumped after Obama was elected president, based on the absurd - and now demonstrably false - fear that he would seek to ban guns."
The President has never made any move to restrict gun sales or use and, in a speech on Wednesday that touched upon the most recent mass shooting, he made only motherhood statements.
''We have to understand that when a child opens fire on another child, there's a hole in that child's heart that government can't fill,'' he said.
He called for restrictions on the sale of assault rifles to the mentally ill, but little else.
The unofficial Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, as governor of Massachusetts banned assault rifles, which he described as ''instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people''.
But this week he said: ''Well this person shouldn't have had any kind of weapons and bombs and other devices and it was illegal for him to have many of those things already.
''But he had them. And so we can sometimes hope that just changing the law will make all bad things go away. It won't. Changing the heart of the American people may well be what's essential, to improve the lots of the American people.''
So far it appears the accused killer bought the weapons legally and passed his background check.
Either way, the reticence of the candidates to engage in the debate in the lead-up to the election is clear.
Although polls show a nearly even split between those calling for greater restrictions and gun advocates, Winkler says it is not hard to see why the NRA is winning the fight.
Those who support gun control tend to take other matters into account in casting their vote, issues such as the economy, healthcare and the environment.
The NRA's supporters are happy to vote on one issue alone, the defence of the single right that guarantees their freedom, the right to bear arms.
Winkler thinks much of the debate in the US today misses the point. There are, he points out, 310 million Americans and 280 million guns in America.
"There is no point in discussing whether or not their would be less [deaths by gunfire] if there were less guns. That is not on the table any more, it's too late."
Back in Kennesaw, Bentley is certain guns are contributing to the peace in his little town.
"We have had one murder and that was with a knife," he says with a chuckle. "We had a warden of a penitentiary in Florida poll his prisoners after our ordinance came out, and the answer to his poll was this: 'I wouldn't hesitate for a minute to go to Morton Grove, Illinois, but I wouldn't step foot in Kennesaw, Georgia.'''