The call came Friday night, as Americans were just beginning the struggle to make sense of one of the most horrific mass shootings in a long history of them.
The anonymous caller was angry, and he was looking for Philip Van Cleave, who heads the Virginia Citizens Defense League. He cursed Van Cleave for his pro-gun advocacy, challenged Van Cleave to sell his weapons and called him a coward.
You would have thought I had gone up there and done these horrible things, said Van Cleave, who got the call as he was planning demonstrations at two AutoZone stores to protest the firing of an employee who used his firearm to break up a robbery.
Those who support the Second Amendment say they feel just as horrified and numb as any other American after Fridays massacre of kindergartners and other young children at a Connecticut school. But now, as the call for new gun-control laws increases, gun owners say they also feel under attack.
These are the people who see guns as an answer to the problem of violence, not the problem itself. They worry that their Second Amendment rights will be taken away. Challenged by those who see any gun as an instrument of destruction, they defend their belief that guns are beneficial. Harder still is to explain the allure of weapons like the .223-caliber Bushmaster, a military-style semiautomatic rifle that some want banned.
I could ask you why should anyone want a Ferrari? Van Cleave said Sunday.
Bushmasters are absolutely a blast to shoot with, he said. Theyre fast. Theyre accurate.
And theres no denying that their fearsome, combat-ready appearance adds to their appeal, he said:
Guns are fun, and some of them are much more cool than others. Its just like we have television sets that look cool, and others are much more boxy.
Investigators say Adam Lanza used a .223-caliber Bushmaster to kill 27 people, including 20 children, in Newtown, Conn.
Lanza, 20, killed himself before police got to Sandy Hook Elementary School. He was also carrying two 9 mm semiautomatic handguns, including a Glock. The guns belonged to his mother, a gun collector who was slain in her home before the school rampage.
When the Glock appeared on the U.S. market, it was the pit bull of firearms. Gun-control advocates warned that the Glock would become terrorists weapon of choice because its plastic body might slip past metal detectors.
But controversy also brought more attention than any marketing campaign ever could. Tupac Shakur rapped about the Glock by name (he would later be killed by one), and Hollywood glamorized the handgun in movies such as Die Hard 2.
Weapons that were targeted and demonized by liberals and gun-control advocates took on this dark glamour, said Paul Barrrett, author of Glock: The Rise of Americas Gun.
Gun-rights advocates said they, too, feel disgust and sorrow at the violence that snuffed the lives of so many children. But to people whose lives have been saved or made more secure by the presence of a firearm, they also feel as if they are on the defensive.
Were all horrified by this thing, said John Lott, an economist whose book, More Guns, Less Crime, suggests that gun control has had the unintended consequence of making mass shootings more likely.
Referring to specific places, such as schools, he said, The frustration a lot of people feel is what strikes me as most obvious: All these attacks in the U.S., and all of these attacks in Europe, except one, keep occurring where guns are banned.
Gun-rights advocates say that, as horrible as this crime was, there does not appear to be a gun law that would have altered the equation, short of a weapons ban.
Lott has also been receiving angry phone calls. Appearing on CNN, he was interrupted by host Piers Morgan, who demanded: How many kids have to die before you guys say we want less guns, not more?
Lott said he is not a Second Amendment defender or even a gun enthusiast. He was forbidden to have a BB gun as a child, and he and his wife would not let their children have toy guns. But Lott said the data do not lie: Since 1950, in every public mass shooting in which three or more people died, the setting has in almost every case been one where guns are banned, such as schools.
But many gun rights advocates were reluctant to be drawn into any discussion of their views so soon after the killings.
This is a time of grieving. We need to respect these families, said Virginia state Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William, who led the effort to repeal the states pioneering law limiting handgun sales to one per month. Thats all I have to say.