My husband grew up deep in the cowboy country of eastern Colorado, on a wheat-and-cattle farm/ranch on the high plains near the Kansas border, 15 miles from the nearest small town. His parents were warm, friendly, loving people. When I first joined their family, they were still raising their younger sons (who were in high school) and maintaining a way of life which had been in both of their families for generations. During the first years of our marriage, my husband often took leave from his service in the U.S. Navy to help out during harvest season, so we spent part of every summer with them.
In this household, guns were available as a matter of course. One of my father-in-law's proudest possessions was his father's "six shooter" pistol. He told me that his father had worked for the railroad in Horace, Kansas, and used to always wear the gun whenever he had to go into Dodge City. It wasn't quite as bad as in the days of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, but things still got pretty rough.
During my visits to my husband's childhood home, I actually saw guns taken out for use only twice. Once was when a strange dog wandered onto the place, was offered water by the younger boys, trembled and shook, but would not drink, and then raced away across the fields. My father-in-law concluded that the animal was rabid and would have to be destroyed. The deed would have to be done while the dog's whereabouts was known and before it could spread the disease. After coming to this conclusion, my father-in-law sat quietly at the table for a few moments with a fortifying cup of coffee, then stood up with a sigh and went to fetch his gun. He turned down his sons' offers of help, climbed into the four-wheel drive vehicle, and went off to take care of a situation that, in a city, would have been relegated to an "animal control officer." He was neither happy nor excited by the prospect, but he was doing his duty to protect his family and his neighbors.
I should point out that neighbors were important in this part of the world. Folks relied more on each other than on the far-away authorities, and there was an unwritten code of honor. One day, after a neighbor had stopped in to borrow something, my father-in-law remarked, to no one in particular, that the tool would never be seen again. In my innocent city-girl way, I asked why he would lend anything when he knew it would never be returned, and he replied, "It's neighborliness. If I help him, he'll help me. I'll need a helping hand someday. It'll even out. He's a real good helper. He just never keeps track of his tools."
The second time I saw guns used at my in-laws' home was the summer that their oldest grandchild, my daughter, was taught to use a .22 caliber rifle. Ten years old was considered the proper age to begin to learn this skill. Using a gun was a serious responsibility, the beginning of becoming an adult in this family's tradition. (My daughter was told, among other things, that a rifle shot from a safe distance away was the best method of killing a rattlesnake, if she saw one when no one else was around. A shot to the head was best, but any hit was good.)
I learned in Colorado that guns, treated respectfully and used only as a last resort, were an important part of a culture that had been foreign to me before my marriage. I do not pretend to know the motivation of any person who is both angry enough and cowardly enough to attack perfect strangers with an assault weapon, but I do not consider that person to be part of the tradition that I came to respect in cowboy country many years ago.