Consequences - trivial or weighty, immediate or deferred - follow choices like hounds follow hares. It is an irrefutable fact. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Repercussions may be delayed. But ultimately, people individually and collectively reap what they sow. It's the law of the harvest.America is reaping the unintended whirlwind of a society drenched in weaponry, evidenced by the highest violent crime rate on the planet and increased misuse of guns.

Firearms in and of themselves are, of course, not inherently good or bad. They are merely tools in trained or untrained hands. But their easy access is creating negative ramifications not fully debated, adjudicated or anticipated. Consider two tragic shootings last week in Sugar House and Jonesboro, Ark., that deal with cold reality and not Second Amendment rhetoric.

The first involved a bickering husband and wife in a middle-class neighborhood. Arguing punctuated with alcohol escalated after their new hot tub delivery was delayed a day. A handgun was produced, and the man shot his wife and watched her die. He claimed the weapon accidentally fired - twice - and wished woefully he could relive it all again. He belatedly bemoaned having had a gun in the house.

Staunch gun proponents would argue that alcohol and weapons are a lethal and irresponsible mix. Obviously. They would argue the right to maintain a gun at home to protect against intruders, foreign invaders and a potentially tyrannical federal government gone amok. Those things all could happen, though what are the odds?

But these arguments, however valid, do not belie the fact a woman was killed because a gun was easily accessible. Even the perpetrator admitted such.

True, without the firearm he could have used a knife or bat or bare hands. But the ease of the act was facilitated by a loaded gun produced in the heat of ugly emotion. In other words, the consequence - unintended - of having the gun handy was death.

In a more shocking tragedy, two youths in Arkansas opened fire on classmates, killing four plus a teacher who gave her life protecting a student. Others were seriously wounded. This is the third recent incident in the South, where slogans such as "God, guns and guts made this country great" are commonplace. That unique mix may have had validity. But there also are scriptural injunctions about living and dying by the sword, turning the other cheek, angelic deliverance and not trusting in the "arm of flesh" - nothing about shredding another's flesh with hollow-point bullets.

Some gun proponents would argue that had the principal, a teacher or someone on the premises been armed, they could have fought back in self-defense. Maybe, though a handgun holder would probably have been outgunned by rifles from the woods. How many would still have been killed in the crossfire?

They would vehemently maintain that guns don't kill people, people kill people. Actually, people using guns kill people - with swift efficiency. Had the 11- and 13-year-olds attacked with knives, bats, clubs, whatever, they would not have been nearly as efficient at killing and would have quickly been subdued.

The bottom line: An unintended, unwanted but undeniable consequence of the easy availability of guns in the United States today is an alarming increase in firearm-fueled violence. Intentions of the Founding Fathers aside, we are dealing with 1998 reality. There are 200 million privately owned guns in the nation. Practically speaking, anyone who wants one can find one - good guy or criminal, adult or child.

Gunfire will exceed automobile accidents as the leading cause of traumatic death in the United States in the next five years. More teenagers die from gunshot wounds than from all natural causes combined. Guns are being taken into schools with frightening regularity, evidenced nationally and locally.

With all of this, we should not advocate mass disarmament or blanket controls. The Second Amendment - even with its unintended bloody consequences - is nothing to sneeze at. But within the framework of that amendment there must be serious dialogue and study of the weapons issue locally and nationally - from a medical perspective as much or more than a moral one.

Despite that pressing need, the gun lobby in Utah showed a calloused, irresponsible and arrogant indifference to legitimate concerns expressed about carrying weapons into churches, and other related gun issues, during the just-completed legislative session.

More importantly, legislators elected to represent us ignored the wishes of 90 percent of Utahns who wanted at least serious debate on the matter.

That insolent indifference should come back to haunt them at the ballot box and in terms of lost credibility. A position of political power by an unreasonable weapons lobby may erode as incidents such as Jonesboro increase and public outcry against guns grows stronger.

The ease of firearm availability in any and all places threatens to throw society into a wide-open shootout, with everyone on the losing end. Blinded weapons proponents - and those more thoughtful - should ask themselves when the last time they or someone they know actually used a gun in self-defense.

Then they should ask - and truthfully answer - when was the last time they knew of guns being abused for suicide, homicide, mass murder or in an accidental shooting. The latter incidents far outweigh the former. Those are not in most instances intended consequences of having 200 million guns in the United States, but are real and tragic ones nonetheless.

In a letter, a critic of a recent column said, in absolute terms, that our society is better off because of guns. That logic is hard to follow. If all things were equal and nobody owned a weapon, I question we would be worse off for it. Firearms have an important place. But the tragic consequences of unrestrained proliferation are in the news every day. Many of us know those statistics personally. Far fewer are the legitimate acts of self-defense or protection of our homeland.

Those who bothered to look up from pledging allegiance to the Second Amendment or sighting their weapons last week saw two graphic if unintended consequences of 200 million guns in America, including little girls' blood in an Arkansas schoolyard.