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A Year After Lawmaker Shot, Gun Sales, US Violence Remain High

John and Roxanna Green watch as a floral portrait of their daughter Taylor is unveiled by Bryan Stewart, the Chair of the Donate Life Float Campaign, in Pasadena, California, December 31, 2011. Taylor was killed during the attempted assassination of Rep.

Bells will toll and vigils will be held this weekend in cities across the United States to mark the one year anniversary of a shooting that targeted a congresswoman and left six people dead, including a judge and a 9-year-old girl.

Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords survived the January 8, 2011 massacre in Tucson, Arizona, which shocked the entire nation. But since then no major new gun laws have been passed, and handgun violence continues to claim more than 30,000 lives every year.

And Americans are buying guns in record numbers. According to the FBI data, more than 1.5 million people underwent background checks in December for firearm purchases from licensed dealers.

The Blue Ridge Arsenal in the northern Virginia town of Chantilly advertises itself as the largest gun range in the area. Not only are gun sales brisk, but the wait time for target practice on one of its 20 lanes averages an hour.

Valerie Kusterbeck smiles after emptying a Sig Sauer pistol into a poster silhouette of a man. The young woman said she shoots for the thrill of it, but adds that owning a firearm also makes her feel safe living in a rural area.

"I live currently just with one of my roommates that I work with, and he's usually not there, so it is nice to have home protection," she said.

The gun control debate goes to the heart of the American belief in individual freedom. Gun lobbyists and gun control advocates, however, have radically different views about what freedom means when it comes to a firearm.

Colin Goddard still has three bullets lodged in his body from a massacre in 2007 at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University - also known as Virginia Tech.

A gunman with a history of mental problems killed 32 people and wounded dozens more. When it was over, more than half the students in the French class that Goddard was taking that morning, as well as the teacher, lay dead around him.

"I think I was like a lot of Americans before the Virginia Tech shooting," he said. "I thought that we did everything that we could to make it difficult for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun."

Growing up, Goddard lived abroad with his family in Somalia, Bangladesh and Indonesia. He was in Egypt when the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began.

"And when I lived over there my whole extended family in the U.S. was petrified for my safety and wanted us to be back in the U.S. So, finally, once I enrolled in college in a small town in Virginia, everyone kind of breathed a sigh of relief," said Goddard.

Goddard now works at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. It's named after former presidential press secretary Jim Brady - who was shot in the head in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

"This is a uniquely American tragedy," said Dennis Henigan, acting president of the Brady Campaign. "No other western, industrialized nation tolerates the kind and dimension of the gun violence problem that we have in America."

The Brady campaign is trying to close a loophole that allows firearms to be purchased at gun shows without background checks for criminal records and mental instability. Gun rights advocates say background checks only inconvenience law abiding customers.

Gun lobbyist John Snyder argues that the Virginia Tech shooter had it easier because of university policies that did not allow students in classrooms, like the one Goddard was in, to carry guns.

"I feel very sorry for Colin and I think his interpretation of the thing is wrong." Snyder said. "I think if someone was able to shoot that guy, they could have shot him, and he wouldn't have committed all those murders."

Snyder spent 45 years working for the National Rifle Association, the premier gun lobby, and argues that tighter legislation is doomed because more than 100 million Americans own firearms.

"You have more people owning guns in the United States than vote for president of the United States!" he said, adding that federal authorities have no authority to limit the right to gun ownership.

"The government is the servant of the people. And they better get that straight," said Snyder.