Courageous Conversations: Guns in Rural America

BRANSON, Mo. -- To own a gun, or not to own a gun? That is the question that continues to prompt the ongoing debate -- as the loss of life from gun violence across the nation continues. However, for people living in rural parts of the country, owning a gun is not as much about protection, or taking someone's life, as it is a way of life.

"I was probably about 10 years old when I got my first gun. It was a shotgun," said 18-year-old Gabriel Floyd who grew up in rural Missouri. "It was kind of a big step for me to move up from, like a pocket knife to a rifle...a shotgun, " Floyd said.

A 2017 study from the Pew Research Center reveals 46% of adults in rural American say they own a gun. By comparison, 28% in the suburbs say they own at least one -- and 19% of those living in urban areas. "So, when I was younger, I would go out to my grandpa's land," Floyd said, "He had some property about ten acres.

And I would just go out there with my family...might be my grandpa, might be my Dad...maybe some cousins. We'd just go out there and shoot some cans." For Floyd, growing up with guns, meant learning to use them properly.

"I know how to handle a firearm," Floyd said, "I know how to be safe with it. How to point it in a safe direction at all times. Things like that.

But I also know how to use one for personal protection" Kevin Moore, former police officer and owner of "76 Arms and Ammunition" in Harrison said, "When you have kids handling firearms that's not familiar with them... don't have the education for it...mistakes happen." "Kids in more rural areas are hunting at a younger age," said Moore, "They go out to the range with their family members and they shoot.

It's more of a rite of passage with, what you call country kids." For many boys in rural America, getting their first gun is like a rite of passage. But as society changes, so does the face of that gun owner.

"But society has changed," said Rebecca Alderman, owner 'Perfect Shot,' A virtual reality gun store in Branson, "Perpetrators have evolved and changed." Alderman, who also grew up in rural America, teaches firearms classes. She says her experience with guns as a kid, was different than most rural boys.

"My dad..all American Dad. And of course he took the boys hunting.. And I begged him I wanted to go hunting," Alderman said, "But, it wasn't so much to shoot a gun, it was just, I want to be with Daddy and my brothers, right."

"But he just explained to me that I was very active -- very talkative. And he said, that I would scare the deer. And so..

I never got in on any of the deer trips," said Alderman with a chuckle. A few life altering events led Alderman to become a gun expert. "I had already been a victim, twice," Alderman said, "And then my life was threatened.

And my husband said, okay..that's it. You're going to learn how to defend yourself." Boone County Sheriff, Mike Moore said he's seen a slight increase in rural gun violence.

"Fortunately, we don't have a lot of firearm crimes," Moore said, "It has picked up in the last few years. And I blame that on the huge amount of drugs that are available." "I remember going to school - and having guns in the gun racks in the back of our pick-up truck - and we could show them to our teachers and trade -- but times have changed and that's no longer possible," said Moore.

For most who live in rural America, owning a gun for protection, equals liberty." "Fundamentally, it's the right to bear arms, is about protection," said rural gun owner Chris Torissi "There are just more opportunities, I believe in the country because the country is close at hand." Torrissi said.

With those opportunities and rights, most will agree, comes responsibility. "When you're walking down the street with an AR-15, or an AR-solid rifle..that's kind of pushing the line there. That's not really necessary," said Floyd, "Whereas if you're just concealed carrying a firearm and a compact pistol or something like that.. nobody is really going to know about it.

It's for your personal protection.

And it is your right to do so...and I don't think that right should be infringed upon.

But, there is that line where you're carrying for your personal protection, or you're carrying to make a statement."

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