In December 2012, a 20-year-old man wearing combat gear and armed with pistols and a semi-automatic rifle forced his way into a school in Newtown, Conn., and killed 26 people, including 20 elementary school students [source: Barron]. That event followed two other mass killings in 2012 -- a July attack on an Aurora, Colo., movie theater in which a gunman slaughtered 12 people and wounded 58 more, and an August assault on a Sikh temple in Milwaukee in which six worshippers were shot to death and thre others wounded [source: Krouse].
But this time, the age of the Newtown victims -- coupled with heart-rending accounts of Victoria Soto, a 27-year-old teacher slain while shielding her first-grade pupils with her body -- roused many Americans to demand action to prevent further gun violence [source: News Times]. A January 2013 Associated Press poll found that 58 percent of Americans wanted stricter gun control laws, and 55 percent wanted a ban on so-called assault weapons -- rapid-firing semi-automatic rifles modeled after arms used by the world's militaries [source: Raum and Agiesta]. In January 2013, thousands of demonstrators, many carrying pictures of victims of gun violence, marched in Washington, D.C., to demand gun control [source: Martinez and Schmidt].
But gun rights lobbyists say such laws would violate Americans' constitutional right to bear arms. They also argue that citizens need weaponry to defend against criminals -- and the possibility of future government tyranny.
As Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, warned at a January 2013 press conference: "When you hear your glass breaking at 3 a.m. and you call 911, you won't be able to pray hard enough for a gun in the hands of a good guy to get there fast enough to protect you" [source: Washington Post]. Some, such as economist and author John R. Lott Jr., argued that the answer to stopping gun violence was for more citizens to be armed [source: University of Chicago Press].
So which side is right? That's for you to decide. But to help you make an informed decision, here are answers to 10 big questions in the U.S. gun control debate.