FREEDOM, Wyo. -- In this mountain-fringed farm valley, where target shooting and hunting are rites of passage as much as recreation, Bob Baker is fighting to protect a small gun manufacturing business started by his father.
Thousands of miles away, in New York, Gladys Gerena also is familiar with the sound of gunshots. The noise often echoes through her Brooklyn housing complex, where she raises five adopted children. A sixth, she says, was killed by teen-ager with a handgun.
Baker and Gerena are on opposite sides of litigation claiming the gun industry isn't doing enough to keep guns from winding up in the wrong hands.
Gerena is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the gun industry that names Baker's business, Freedom Arms Inc., as one of the defendants. Similar lawsuits pending against gunmakers also name Freedom Arms as a defendant.
Both Baker and Gerena are touched on a deeply personal level by the gun debate, heightened by Thursday's one year anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.
Baker is the lean, blue-eyed son of a man who traded mining and salvaging businesses to pursue the finer points of gun crafting. He makes collector guns, precise, modernized versions of the old western six-shooter that are sold to a small but multinational market.
Gerena ran out of her home Sept. 1, 1995, in time to catch a glimpse of her son, Shawn, dying on the sidewalk after being shot by another teen-ager. Gerena said the two had an argument earlier.
She learned of litigation against gunmakers through a support group for mothers of gunshot victims. Such lawsuits contend gun manufacturers, large and small, could make distribution and safety changes to help ensure that their guns are sold and handled responsibly.
Gerena joined a federal lawsuit filed by a Brooklyn man who was wounded by gunfire. In a similar lawsuit, a federal jury in New York City last February found several gunmakers liable for shootings with handguns obtained illegally. Freedom Arms was one of 15 gunmakers found to be negligent in their marketing practices, but was not among the three manufacturers ordered to pay $500,000 to the plaintiff.
''I blame the gun manufacturers,'' Gerena said. ''They're all dangerous as far as I'm concerned.''
In Wyoming, Freedom Arms sits on the edge of this town -- population 100 -- founded 121 years ago by Mormons seeking freedom of religion.
So far, Baker says he has spent more than $200,000 on legal bills and laid off 12 of his 35 employees to fight the lawsuits.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.