Guns and Safety

ON Jan. 1, a new law went into effect in Texas, allowing residents who had obtained permits and completed a training course to begin carrying concealed weapons. Proponents of the law said it would make Texans safer, giving them a chance to defend themselves against criminals. Last week, however, a welding-supply repairman with just such a permit shot and killed a delivery-truck driver who had started a fist fight with him after the two were involved in a minor traffic accident.

The shooting serves as a tragic reminder of how the Texas measure, and others like it, can lead to an increase in violence, rather than its desired effect - greater safety and protection. It will be up to a jury to decide whether the man's use of force was justified. (The Texas law allows those with permits to use their guns in cases of aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery.) But one thing is certain: It didn't have to happen and wouldn't have, had the driver (who had no previous criminal record) been unarmed.

In recent years, 26 states have passed laws allowing citizens to carry concealed guns under varying conditions. At the urging of the powerful gun lobby, many state lawmakers are introducing measures that would relax the restrictions on these statutes.

In Georgia, while current law requires licensed gun-owners to carry their weapons in full view in most cases, a recently introduced bill would allow them to hide the gun under their jacket or coat. Virginia has introduced legislation that would empower circuit court clerks and their deputies to issue concealed-weapons permits in routine, noncontroversial cases, rather than clearing the application with a judge, as is currently the case.

As we have said before, there is little benefit and considerable likelihood of trouble with the unrestricted ''right to bear arms.'' The National Rifle Association has had its share of losses, with the passage of the Brady gun-control law, as well as federal and even tougher state assault-weapon bans. But in the case of concealed weapons, the NRA has successfully used scare tactics, convincing people the only way they'll be safe is with a handgun in purse, pocket, or holster.

In Massachusetts last week, a beauty salon owner was killed when a robber burst into her shop. She reportedly reached for her hidden gun and, as a result, was shot several times. Though gun advocates say the woman did the right thing in trying to protect herself, it's clear that a gun is no guarantee of safety. This incident and the one in Texas should alert more people to the need for stricter legal limits on tools of deadly force, rather than weaker ones.

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