The land of the free home of the brave. Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson, the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey, Lethal Weapons 1 through 4, Die Hard 1 through 4, the Unforgiven, the Terminators, the deadliest action heroes fast on the draw, gunslingers all, our idols.

America leads the world in almost everything from GNP to military might and from record sales to agricultural output. Nowhere is our leadership larger than in our reverence for and ownership of handguns. Eighty percent of the world's guns are right here in our homes, cars, offices, briefcases, lunch boxes, and handbags.

Not surprising that we lead the world in handgun deaths. Bad guys shoot other bad guys. Bad guys shoot good guys, sometimes great guys two Kennedy's King Reagan. Good guys are often dumb guys who leave their heat in drawers so that good kids can shoot themselves, their parents, friends, and the unsuspecting mailman or garbage collector. Bad kids look for the small arms and assault rifles left around by the dumb good guys so they can stage the odd massacre in a school, church, or synagogue. The police usually shoot bad guys but sometimes shoot a good guy by mistake because they have guns.

Texas, the Lone Star state, and birthplace of compassionate conservatism, boasts the largest number of small arms nearly six for every man, woman and child. It's not surprising that there are more shootings in Texas on the average weekend than the annual tally in both the U.K. and Japan where no one except the police may own one. The penalties in these countries are extreme for anyone caught with a gun; so that while the chances of getting stabbed, poisoned, bludgeoned, or strangled are just as good in New Castle as New York, the homicide rate in these countries is less than Detroit, our leading city in this category.

The gun lobby is so strong that "W" refused to ratify the international agreement designed to keep small arms away from terrorists, because it might, at some point, affect domestic gun ownership.

It is pointless to debate the appropriateness of our Constitutional right to keep and bear arms except to note that it is a lot harder for a group of gun toters on horses to ride in today and take over a town than it was when the second amendment was drafted.

The gun lobby looks at any restriction, even one as sensible as making sure a buyer isn't a felon or a diagnosed crazy, as dangerous. They argue that it would take 50 years to sweep up all of our six shooters and only the bad guys would be left with any. They discount the police department's ability to deal with bad guys and the courts' willingness to apply heavy penalties for unlawful possession. In Japan it's a non-negotiable 25 years, a real deterrent for even the syndicate kingpins.

In many parts of our country, it still takes courage for a politician to support the eminently sensible Brady Bill, or to favor outlawing private ownership of assault rifles, which have no purpose beyond massacres. Michigan just passed a law making it legal for about everyone to carry concealed weapons. This will help get guns out of the crack houses and into the schools, giving adolescent anger a new and deadly means of expressing itself.

While I would personally welcome an outright ban on all handguns, I accept my gun owning friend's point of view and recognize the difficulties associated with actually pulling it off in our open and free society. What I don't understand is how any reasonably bright citizen objects to a very stringent and demanding process to assure wherever possible that only the good guys get the guns, and that ownership carries with it significant responsibilities, and heavy penalties if abused. It is hard to believe that "W" takes sides with an ignoramus like Charlton Heston against virtually every law enforcement agency in our country. It is still hard for me to believe he is our President.