From folk hero frontiersman Davy Crockett to vigilante cop Dirty Harry, guns seem to be too deeply woven into the American identity for any amount of bloodshed to stain.
The slaying of 20 first graders and six staff members at a Connecticut elementary school Friday shocked a nation that has become accustomed to mass shootings, and sparked renewed calls for gun control.
But even though the powerful National Rifle Association lobby took the unusual step of saying Tuesday it was "prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again," experts said any change will be marginal at best.
"The prospect for real political and policy change is slim or unlikely," said Robert Spitzer, author of "The Politics of Gun Control" and a professor at State University of New York at Cortland.
The right to "bear arms" was enshrined in the US Constitution after the British colonial powers were overthrown in the American Revolution.
Guns remain a potent symbol of freedom and democracy, especially for those who mistrust the government.
"They look at Aleppo, at North Africa, at all these places where the government does terrorize the people and they say 'would these people be better off if there was an armed population?'" explained Gregg Lee Carter, a sociology professor at Bryant University and author of "Guns in American Society."
Firearms were further romanticized in the American consciousness as pioneers expanded the nation's frontier and relied on guns to defend their land from Indians, bandits and wild beasts.
They evolved into a beloved family tradition for hunters and those with rural roots.
"It is also a part of the American tradition of individualism, which is this value or belief that ultimately Americans need to rely on themselves whether it's personal self protection or other things," Spitzer said in an interview.
The horrifying crimes and random acts of violence that dominate the evening news and seep into the national consciousness through films and television shows have reinforced fears that people can't rely on the police.
A vocal minority of gun enthusiasts insists that the best way to prevent school shootings is to arm teachers or let students carry guns on college campuses.
One 11-year-old boy in Utah appears to have taken their warnings to heart. He was arrested Tuesday after bringing an unloaded .22 caliber handgun and a package of ammunition to school.
"He is alleging that he brought the weapon to protect himself and his friends from a Connecticut-style incident," Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley told AFP.
The adage "guns don't kill people, people kill people" still rings true for some in Newtown, Connecticut, even as they watch their neighbors bury their children.
"This hysteria over guns is from people who, I don't know, are foolish enough to believe that if you took all the axes away from people, there would be no more ax murders," a 72-year-old retired businessman who declined to be named told AFP.
Steven Clarke, who owns a shooting range in Warrenton, Virginia, echoed concerns that the actions of a mentally unstable murderer could impact all law-abiding gun enthusiasts.
"There isn't a single law that they could enact right now that could prevent this from happening again," he said.
"This happened because this person was not institutionalized. That's a very callous consideration but if we wanna be in a free society, we have to accept that."
Popular culture also contributes to the American fascination with guns, which play starring roles in films, television, music and video games.
"Guns are simply everywhere. We are saturated with them," said Jimmy Taylor, a sociologist at Ohio University and author of "American Gun Culture."
The expansion of concealed-carry laws allowing residents to carry concealed weapons and the politicization of gun culture has also changed the prevalence of guns in every day life, even as the number of gun-owning households has fallen from about 50 percent in the 1960s to between 30 to 40 percent today.
"Guns are no longer something that Americans throw under the bed and forget about unless they are unfortunate enough to experience a home invasion," said University of California, Berkeley sociologist Jennifer Dawn Carlson.
"Instead, they are now one of the first things that millions of Americans put on in the morning as they go about their daily business -- grabbing a cup of coffee, running errands and so on."
Also on HuffPost:
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
"I wish to God she had had an m-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out ... and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids," Gohmert said of slain principal Dawn Hochsprung on <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/louie-gohmert-guns_n_2311379.html"><em>Fox News Sunday</em></a>. He argued that shooters often choose schools because they know people will be unarmed.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R)
"If people were armed, not just a police officer, but other school officials that were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there would be an opportunity to stop an individual trying to get into the school," he <a href="http://www.wtop.com/610/3162096/Gov-Is-it-time-to-arm-school-officials">told WTOP's "Ask the Governor" show</a> Tuesday, warning that Washington may respond to such a policy with a "knee-jerk reaction."
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) & State Sen. Frank Niceley (R)
Gov. Haslam says he will consider a Tennessee plan to secretly arm and train some teachers, <a href="http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/12/tennessee-armed-teachers.php">TPM reports</a>. The legislation will be introduced by State Sen. Frank Niceley (R) next month. "Say some madman comes in. The first person he would probably try to take out was the resource officer. But if he doesn’t know which teacher has training, then he wouldn’t know which one had [a gun]," Niceley told TPM. "These guys are obviously cowards anyway and if someone starts shooting back, they’re going to take cover, maybe go ahead and commit suicide like most of them have."
Oklahoma State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) & State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R)
State Rep. Mark McCullough (R) <a href="http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=336&articleid=20121217_336_0_OKLAHO168827">told the Tulsa World</a> he plans to file legislation that would bring guns into schools, calling their absence "irresponsible." “It is incredibly irresponsible to leave our schools undefended – to allow mad men to kill dozens of innocents when we have a very simple solution available to us to prevent it," he said. "I’ve been considering this proposal for a long time. In light of the savagery on display in Connecticut, I believe it’s an idea whose time has come." Sen. Ralph Shortey (R) told the Tulsa World that teachers should carry concealed weapons at school events. "Allowing teachers and administrators with concealed-carry permits the ability to have weapons at school events would provide both a measure of security for students and a deterrent against attackers," he said.
Florida State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R)
Baxley, who once sponsored Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law, <a href="http://politics.heraldtribune.com/2012/12/17/florida-legislator-allow-guns-in-schools/">told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune </a>that keeping guns out of schools makes them a target for attacks. “We need to be more realistic at looking at this policy," he said. "In our zealousness to protect people from harm we’ve created all these gun-free zones and what we’ve inadvertently done is we’ve made them a target. A helpless target is exactly what a deranged person is looking for where they cannot be stopped.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)
At a Tea Party event Monday night, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/rick-perry-guns-in-schools_n_2322185.html">Perry praised a Texas school system that allows some staff to carry concealed weapons to work</a> and encouraged local school districts to make their own policies.
Minnesota State Rep. Tony Cornish (R)
Cornish <a href="http://www.kdlt.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=22736&Itemid=57">plans to introduce legislation that would allow teachers to arm themselves</a>, according to the AP.
Oregon State Rep. Dennis Richardson (R)
In an email <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/oregon-state-rep-dennis-richardson-teacher-guns-stopped-connecticut-shooting_n_2317444.html?ir=Education">obtained by Gawker</a> and excerpted below, Richardson tells three superintendents that he could have saved lives had he been armed and in Sandy Hook on Friday: <blockquote>If I had been a teacher or the principal at the Sandy Hook Elementary School and if the school district did not preclude me from having access to a firearm, either by concealed carry or locked in my desk, most of the murdered children would still be alive, and the gunman would still be dead, and not by suicide. ... [O]ur children's safety depends on having a number of well-trained school employees on every campus who are prepared to defend our children and save their lives?</blockquote>
Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett
"And I'm not so sure -- and I'm sure I'll get mail for this -- I'm not so sure I wouldn't want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing," Bennett, who served as education secretary under Ronald Reagan, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/bill-bennett-education-secretary-connecticut-shooting_n_2311774.html">told <em>Meet the Press</em> Sunday</a>. "The principal lunged at this guy. The school psychologist lunged at the guy. It has to be someone who's trained, responsible. But, my god, if you can prevent this kind of thing, I think you ought to."