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TAKING AIM: RUGGED LAND LURES GUN-LOVING INDIVIDUALISTS.

Army veteran Timothy McVeigh, 27, is the prime suspect in last week's bombing in Oklahoma City. Walter McCarty, 72, a retired Marine first sergeant, is a crusading gun activist.

They represent opposite ends of the spectrum of angry, heavily armed crew-cut individualism found across the broad brown spaces of northwestern Arizona's Mohave County. It's not surprising the two would cross paths in a place like Kingman.This is a rugged, austere land, beneath mountains that could have been landscaped by a blowtorch. The view across the flatlands is seldom broken by anything bigger than a steer.

It is a land for free moving and free thinking.

"A lot of people come out here to get away from government, own some land and do their own thing," County Attorney Bill Ekstrom said.

There was plenty of cheap land before the gambling boom along the Colorado River, 25 miles west of Kingman, began filling up the open spaces in the late 1980s.

Now, the growth fueled by the casinos across the river in Laughlin, Nev., and the migration of Californians fleeing earthquakes, crime and high taxes have brought a need for less laissez-faire county government.

The county government is actively trying to manage growth, and some residents are rebelling.

"There are hundreds of angry people who believe through planning and zoning we are trying to take their rights away," Ekstrom said.

"They say they moved out here because they didn't want to have neighbors or government, but now they're ending up with both."

Individualism as rough-edged as the walls of the Black Mountains has helped shape the county's conservatism. That makes the area attractive to men such as McVeigh and McCarty.

McVeigh is known in Kingman as a loner who worked a series of low-paying jobs and held a smoldering resentment toward the federal government.

McCarty, the retired Marine, also resents government. He and his wife bought five acres north of Kingman in 1981, fleeing the ticks and the chiggers and the rain of Arkansas.

A passionate defender of what he calls "the right to bear arms for the protection of life," McCarty sometimes teaches gun courses. Last summer, he taught a three-hour session that McVeigh attended.

McCarty said he had little one-on-one contact with McVeigh and recalled him only as well-spoken and neatly dressed. Now, McCarty, who received a Purple Heart for wounds he suffered during the Korean War, spends many mornings picketing the county attorney's office.

The reason for his protest: a decision by the county attorney that county employees may demand that McCarthy remove the sidearm he always carries before he enters their offices.

But unlike McVeigh, McCarty maintains a civil relationship with those whose authority he opposes. He closed a December query to Ekstrom about gun laws with a cheery, "Thanks and have a nice holiday season."

"I've got to stay within the framework of the law," he said. "I'm retired, and I can't rebel against the system that supports me."

But others in Mohave County are less amiable.

Sylvia Majeski once issued a summons for county officials to appear for their own hangings. She has declared her community on the outskirts of Kingman to be an independent nation.

Some county residents are even invoking the Uniform Commercial Code to resist paying traffic fines. Their reasoning: Citizens are bound only to contracts they freely accept, and they have not agreed to be subject to traffic fines.

County Attorney Ekstrom admits being concerned about an increasing number of county resi-dents walking the streets of Kingman with guns strapped to their hips. But he said he doesn't see signs of a resurgence of the Arizona Patriots, some of whom were imprisoned in 1987 for plotting to rob an armored car in order to finance a paramilitary training camp near Kingman.

"We know there is some militia activity east of Kingman involving paramilitary training, but it seems to be on a very limited basis," he said. "I think they have some strong convictions about their right to bear arms, but I don't see them as a threat to this community or any other community."