To the editor: I am writing today as I am compelled to set forth my personal thoughts regarding the political fallout relative to the Sandy Hook tragedy.

I shed tears of true sorrow upon learning of the despicable acts committed recently in Connecticut. No one loves or respects children more than I. Yet, for this reason, I also support the rights of the law-abiding citizen to arm him or herself as they may choose to do. I do not support any limit of this right, with the caveat that it is tempered by the inability of those who do not deserve the right to bear arms to obtain them. Basically, I believe that convicted criminals have, through their own choosing, forfeited the right to obtain a gun. I believe that a person's history of certain mental health disorders, if proven and quantifiable, must preclude them from the ability to own a gun. These restrictions are necessary for the protection of society as a whole.

However, these restrictions alone cannot protect those of us who believe in law and order. More importantly, there is no governmental "force" tasked specifically with protecting myself and my family from harm. Certainly, the armed services, the various federal law enforcement bureaus, the Pennsylvania State Police and our local police forces deserve our gratitude. They also deserve our support. However, we cannot allow ourselves to believe that in the harsh world in which we live, these law enforcement entities can possibly protect all citizens at all times.

The simple truth is that we, as a society, must help them. It is my belief that the law enforcement community welcomes the help of the average citizen in preventing crime, whether it be through useful information or, if dictated by circumstances, through action.

I live in the country. My area is protected, along with miles and miles of other areas, by the Stonington barracks of the Pennsylvania State Police. At any time, these brave men and women are ready and willing to accept my call for help. But the timing of that help is dependent upon a patrol car's location of the moment. They could arrive at my home in five minutes or 45, dependent only upon the luck of the draw. This simple fact causes me concern for my family's safety.

When my neighbor's house was burglarized, with his teen-age daughter hiding in a bedroom alone, he made two calls of which I am certain. He called the state police and he called my home. I arrived with my dog and my guns long before the state police could possibly do so. He would do no less for me.

When I have on two occasions been the subject of threats of violence and death upon myself and my family, made by groups of criminals well-known to be capable of inflicting such violence, I slept with a high-capacity pistol by my bed and an "assault rifle" by my window. The pistol would be a weapon of last resort, while the rifle was to be used to keep a group of armed intruders from entering my home. I do not believe that this response to possible violence made any law-abiding community member less safe, and I thank God that the use of these weapons was never made necessary. Yet, I certainly was able to sleep only with the knowledge that said firearms were accessible.

Finally, I do everything in my power to ensure that my children have a healthy respect for the law, as do I. I teach them to help and respect all others, and to avoid violence against friend or foe (if possible and safe), and I teach my children to respect firearms in the same way that I teach them to respect other dangerous items found around my home, like edged weapons (kitchen knives or scissors) and poisons (bleach and various medicines). I further ensure that my children are not allowed unfettered access to any of the aforementioned implements which could cause them harm. Yet neither do I hide from my children the fact that I carry concealed weapons. When they question why, I simply tell them that I carry a gun for my own protection as well as the protection of themselves and all of the "good" people in the world. The gun I wear is not meant to deter criminals. Unless the criminals know I have it, they will not be deterred. I wear a gun to STOP criminals during the commission of a crime, no more, no less. And I hope my neighbor does the same, for the sake of my children as well as his own.

Joel M. Wiest