Whew! It's been a lively week dodging well-aimed projectiles from well-armed readers like W. James Palmer of Centerville. Disagreeing with last Sunday's column advocating an ounce of moderation on gun issues, he began by asking if my middle name was "Loose."

I resembled that remark and was shaken by it until the thought occurred that the only person of sufficient caliber to trump a Cannon on weapons commentary should be someone named Scud or Nuke. Confidence quickly returned.He first questioned the character of the National Guard and its ability to protect us from an oppressive federal government. He argued the Guard is tied too closely with the Army and gets its equipment from the U.S. government. Mr. Palmer also disagreed vehemently with my depiction of the NRA, definition of assault weapons, etc.

His contrarian points, and those of several others, were duly noted and considered.

But he and the rest seemed to miss the intended main idea, which was not that we should relinquish our guns or even the right to conceal them at appropriate places and times. It was that a state law banning weapons from churches would not undermine the Second Amendment - whatever its interpretation - and would have deemed gun proponents more reasonable than perceived by many. That, and something's got to give before Utah hosts the 2002 Winter Games.

A few final stray shots:

Mr. Palmer said "being around an armed policeman does not make me nervous, nor does being around a responsible gun owner, because they take the responsibility very seriously." No doubt that is true, but . . .

- When I notice someone next to me out of uniform and armed, how do I know he or she is responsible and legitimate? Do we tackle him or her first and then ask for credentials, or just sit nervously wondering who will get the drop on whom?

- Does the average concealed carrier REALLY want the responsibility of using a weapon, even in self-defense? Ever known anyone who has shot somebody, even justifiably, and seen the after-effects?

- For every former neighbor of ours who shot and killed a tire iron-wielding intruder while we listened to gunshots and dialed 911 one hot summer night, there are many more incidents of a readily accessible weapon inflicting harm or death accidentally or suicidally - even under trained and licensed ownership.

One such case was another neighbor who, overcome with depression 12 years ago, shot and killed his wife and then himself. Nobody knows, of course, but had a gun not been easily accessible, perhaps he would not have acted so impetuously with irreversably tragic results. At least he would have been slowed down and perhaps thwarted. You don't outrun a bullet.

- Emergency room physicians, who see up close and bloody results from shootings, are passionate about the need for education and, yes, even regulation. Handguns are of particular concern.

Primary Children's Medical Center treated 78 gunshot victims from 1989-97 with an average age of 11. Of those 78, 64 were accidental, seven were attempted suicides and seven were assaults. Fourteen of the 78 died. There is no record of how many of those weapons if any belonged to licensed carriers.

- More trained law-enforcement officers die from self-inflicted gunshot wounds than die in the line of duty, at a rate of 2:1 to 3:1. Studies have proven easy access to handguns contributes to that tragic trend.

- Many officers' greatest risk is having their own guns used against them. Other pistol packers face the same danger in a confrontation, often turning assault and/or battery into a homicide - their own.

Running through all of this is the astute question asked by a licensed, trained concealed-carry friend who packs a heavy black 9mm as part of his job. "If you're carrying a properly concealed weapon, who knows and, thus, who cares?"

That kind of makes the whole issue moot. But it also undermines the deterrence argument for carrying concealed weapons. Criminals will prey upon perceived weakness without considering who may or who may not be armed. It then becomes the choice of an armed victim to use a firearm in self-defense and hopefully to use it well and to live peacefully with any consequences.

That in itself is a huge responsibility, however, that merits careful consideration. Gun-toting cowboys and macho cops who shoot 'em up on the big screen is one thing. Using a lethal weapon on a living, breathing human is quite another.

Think I'll rely on delivering a poke in the eye with a sharp stick and fleet feet. Then again, I could be well-armed and bluffing. You never know with a loose Cannon.