As concealed carry gun laws spread across the country, America has seen a sharp rise in the number of guns in civilian life. There are an estimated 300 million guns in private hands, up from 200 million in 1995. About 120 million of those are handguns, according to the Government Accountability Office.
With the mass shooting this summer in Aurora, Colo. and the September workplace shooting in Minneapolis, we wanted to discuss the importance of gun ownership in America and how violent gun acts can be prevented in the future.
Many of the major images of American history are associated with firearms, said Paul Barrett, author of "Glock: The Rise of America's Gun," on The Daily Circuit Monday. Think about the classic American stories of winning the frontier, the brave GI and his gun, film noir detectives and the antihero gangsters.
"I'm not saying this is good or bad; this is American," he said. "This is something that is very intertwined with Americans' idea of who they are."
Compared to other industrialized countries, the United States has similar overall violent crime rates. But the gun homicide rate is much higher in the United States, and the violent crime is more lethal, Barrett said.
These incidents happen when guns get into the wrong hands, he said. But making sure that doesn't happen isn't so easy.
Several callers suggested a better system for checking the mental health of possible gun owners during a background check.
"Within the existing rules, we can do a much better job of getting information -- for example that exists at the local and state level about people who have been deemed in one way or another to have a mental health problem -- into the federal background check system," Barrett said.
But that wouldn't catch everyone, he said.
"There is no sort of systematic way to put into the FBI background check system information about people who may be troubled, but who have had no previous difficulty with the law, who have not been adjudicated mentally ill, who have not been through any kind of official process," Barrett said.
David Hemenway, professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health and the director of Harvard's Injury Control Research Center, also joined the discussion.
"People own guns for lots of different reasons, including mostly hunting and sports shooting," he said. "A lot of people own handguns for self defense. There's this big fear in the United States, this notion that someone is going to break into your house and you won't be fully prepared. There's this belief that the gun is the best weapon of self defense."
On Facebook, Kris Butler said gun owners don't make her feel safer.
"Other people feel safer having a gun," she wrote. "I feel less safe because they have guns. Statistics show guns do not make us safer, yet legislators are too afraid of the gun lobby to make it harder to own one. The Second Amendment is an outdated relic that should have been repealed long ago."
Hemenway said people who want to own guns have to weigh the benefits and risks of having firearms in their home.
"I think the big thing is that they have to be responsible," he said. "They can't make it so it's easy for someone else to steal their gun, they can't make it easy for a kid to get shot inadvertently with a gun, they should be really careful if they have a teenager in their house."
Join the conversation on Facebook.
Madelyn Mahon contributed to this report.