I DON'T KNOW ABOUT you, but I'd feel a whole lot safer if just about everybody around me was packing heat. If one started to act out, the rest could pull their guns and drill that fool right into the ground. Summary execution for public safety, I say, and if we have to live with the ricochets, isn't the peace of mind worth it?

A fellow named John R. Lott Jr. at the University of Chicago law school has written a book proving, he says, that states that let citizens carry concealed weapons, or have only loosey-goosey laws against it, have big drops in violent crime. He touts a citizens' arms race as the cheapest way to erase criminals.Sure, the idea that the more guns the merrier is counter-intuitive - there are about 200 million in circulation - and, of course, the usual whiners and nitpickers are indeed whining and nitpicking.

The Voter News Service complains that Lott can't fairly compare its 1988 and 1996 exit polls on gun ownership, as he does, because the questions were asked differently. A paper in the Journal of Legal Studies dismisses Lott's study because, the authors find, it failed to consider other anti-crime variables in making its cause-and-effect claims, a fundamental gaffe.

Lott says would-be murderers and rapists, when they fear an armed citizenry, switch to stealing cars and to hitting up coin-op machines. That has Handgun Control wondering how on Earth violent criminals, typically driven by fury and compulsion and impulse, could suddenly and coolly swap for calculated crimes.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, another griper, says concealed-weapon permit holders in Philadelphia have become straw gun-buyers for illegal markets. One may fairly suspect that's so in other concealed-weapon jurisdictions as well. A review of Lott's work by researchers at the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University found it "plagued" with research problems, likely driven by bias.

And then there's that study by the Centers for Disease Control, the one that found homes with guns, compared with homes without, are five times more likely to experience a suicide and three times more likely for a member of the household to be killed by another member or by an acquaintance.

Lott, however, is sticking by his guns. In a piece written for the Wall Street Journal, he says that if only the teachers had been armed, they could have prevented, or at least quickly ended, those recent student shooting sprees in Arkansas, Mississippi and Kentucky.

The argument that an armed teacher is a dangerous teacher is hard to dismiss: Make my study hall.

Then a 5-year-old kindergartner in Memphis was caught at school with a .25-caliber semiautomatic he'd taken from a dresser, meaning to shoot his teacher for putting him in timeout the day before.

If the kid had drawn on her, a teacher with a gun in her lap drawer could have whipped it out and smeared that little sucker all over the classroom. The other tykes no doubt would be better for the experience to boot. You're never too young to learn that the right answer to one gun is another.