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A knee-jerk creed: 'In guns we trust'

The instinctual reaction is predictable after a massacre like the one Monday: Anyone in one of those classrooms sure would want to have a gun.

When it comes to preventing mass deaths like those at Virginia Tech, it's easy to imagine the death toll could have been lower if other students had been armed and able to take out Cho Seung-Hui before he killed so many.

In fact, longtime gun rights advocate Marshall Brown didn't have to use his imagination to conjure up such a scenario.

"That's actually happened," Brown said, recalling the 2002 incident at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., in which a gunman killed three and wounded three others.

According to a Virginia newspaper account of the 2002 incident, the shooter was subdued when a student -- a former alcohol enforcement agent -- ran to his car and got a bulletproof vest and gun. He said he and three others, one of whom also had a gun, then confronted the killer. The shooter surrendered.

"It was written up [in the media] without too much fanfare because guns were used positively" to end the crisis, said Brown, a former vice present of the Shooters Committee on Political Education.

He's a longtime voice in the local gun-rights movement who points to research like that of former University of Chicago Law School fellow John R. Lott in "More Guns, Less Crime." The book asserts just what the name implies: States that make it easier to carry concealed handguns experience less crime because, as Brown puts it, "criminals are no morons." The former Courier-Express crime reporter said prison interviews show that criminals fear an armed citizen more than they fear the police.

Besides, he says, "What other way can you provide security when you have some mad man . . . and too few armed guards?"

That's a good question, whether you fear the occasional campus crazy or the more typical Buffalo armed robber. In fact, the pro-gun argument sounds eminently reasonable -- until you remember one thing: A lot of us aren't.

And there's the rub. Sure, I could be trusted to walk around armed. And maybe you. But what about that guy down the block?

What about the guy who regularly risks his life and yours with a 3,000-pound weapon he drives right on your bumper before hopping lanes? Do you trust him with a gun?

Or what about the Little League parents who beat up coaches and team managers -- and even opposing kids -- when Junior doesn't get enough playing time or gets tackled too roughly? Would you trust them with a gun?

"We can't just have everyone running around armed to the teeth, ready to do whatever they think they need to do," said Buffalo Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson.

With the presidential race as a backdrop, that debate will erupt again after Cho was able to kill 32 without being challenged. Groups like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence will point to methodological flaws in every study like Lott's -- and vice versa.

The selective use of statistics by both sides will make your head spin as we search for a middle ground between lax states like Virginia and onerous ones like New York, where it can take a ridiculous six months to get a pistol permit.

But at some point, we have to disregard the dueling studies and rely on common sense. And as I look around, I find that to be in much too short a supply to make this a fully armed society.

I agree with Brown that if other people had been carrying guns Monday, lives might have been saved.

It's the other 364 days of the year I worry about.

e-mail: rwatson@buffnews.com

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