By Jessica Tully and Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
A surge in gun-safety classes is occurring as states relax laws regarding carrying guns.
A growing number of people - many of them women - are acquiring guns for self-protection, says Don Cates, a retired professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law who has studied the issue of gun control extensively.
Cates says increased interest from women is a significant factor.
"Women used to be told that owning a gun is a man's thing," Cates says. "That is not the case anymore because women are being told that they should be able to defend themselves."
The issue of gun rights has jumped back into the spotlight after two recent mass shootings - the July 20 assault on an Aurora, Colo., movie theater that killed 12 and Sunday's attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that left seven dead, including the gunman.
To accommodate the increased number of students attending gun classes, the National Rifle Association has certified 5,000 additional instructors since April 2011, adding to the almost 150,000 instructors already working.
Greg Block, a law enforcement instructor for city, county, state and federal agencies, says he has noticed a "dramatic" increase in class attendance since 2008. He says he now instructs about 100 individuals per month.
Last November, Wisconsin became the 49th state to allow people to carry concealed weapons, leaving Illinois the only state to forbid the practice, says Bill Brassard, director of communications at the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Caroline Brewer, spokeswoman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, says carrying guns in public endangers more lives than it saves.
"No matter how much gun training an average American might have, it pales in comparison to the rigorous gun training that we demand of law enforcement officers, and thousands of innocent Americans die every year because of the paranoid mentality and lack of meaningful training," she says.
Patrick Egan, an assistant professor of politics at New York University, says the USA is actually at an all-time low for per-capita gun ownership. In the 1970s, one in two households had a gun; now it's about one in three.
"Our attention is drawn to violence and gun ownership in the wake of these big shootings," he says. "But it shouldn't lead us to lose sight of the fact that we're also in a time when gun violence is at 40-year lows."
Massacres such as the ones in Colorado and Wisconsin "tend to be followed by a legitimate surge in fear of gun violence and a surge of interest in guns and gun safety - and probably gun ownership," Egan says. Such increases tend to disappear in the face of long-term gun-ownership trends.