Dear Ann:

I would like to ask your help in getting across an important message. Due to recent tragedies, the issue of children and guns is again in the news. However, as in the past, concern for children has been lost in a debate between entrenched positions. Whatever our personal views may be, it is time to move forward and do something to protect children from gun violence.

For this reason, I have co-founded an organization called Common Sense About Kids and Guns. Common Sense is unique in that it brings together gun owners and non-gun owners, united in their desire to protect children. The organization includes both gun manufacturers and gun-control advocates. At Common Sense, we recognize that it is the responsibility of adults to protect children from guns, and urge all adults to take steps to do this.

Our message IS common sense. To ensure the safety of children, all gun owners should:

* Unload and lock up their guns.

* Lock and store ammunition separately, and

* Hide keys where kids are unable to find them.

Furthermore, all parents MUST:

* Ask the parents of their children's playmates if they have guns in the house, and if so, if they are safely stored.

* Talk to their kids about guns, and

* Teach kids not to touch guns, and to tell an adult if they find one.

These simple, yet crucial, steps can drastically reduce the number of children harmed by guns. We have seen too many children injured by gun violence, and it is our duty to end this now. Please urge your readers to use common sense when dealing with guns and children.

For more information, people can visit our Web site at www.kidsandguns.org, or call 1-877-955-KIDS (1-877-955-5437). The child they save may be their own.

--Victoria Reggie Kennedy, Washington, D.C.

I have correspondence in my files that goes back 30 years from your husband, Sen. Ted Kennedy, on this very subject. It seems that in spite of his best efforts, and mine, we have not made much progress.

Marian Wright Edelman, in her excellent new book "Lanterns" (Beacon Press), wrote: "We must act now to take guns out of the hands of children and those who kill children. Whether you are a hunter, NRA member, gun owner or not, you will agree that we all must do everything we can to prevent children from killing and being killed by guns. An overwhelming majority of Americans favor gun-control measures, including 80 percent of gun owners. I hope our voters will insist that our leaders protect our children instead of guns."

And now, dear readers, a few lines from a heartbreaking letter that arrived yesterday. The timing could not have been more appropriate:

Dear Ann:

Yesterday we buried our only son. He was 9 years old. Apparently, he found the loaded gun my husband kept in the drawer of his nightstand, and well--you can guess the rest.

Please tell your readers NEVER to leave a loaded gun where a child can reach it. Or better advice: Don't have a gun in the house. It won't protect you. The invader is more experienced at shooting, and he will get you before you get him. It is too late for us to protect our son from our carelessness, Ann, but maybe my letter will save someone else's child.

--Grieving in the Midwest

You have written a powerful letter, and I thank you. I hope my readers will give it the attention it deserves.

Questions may be sent to: Ann Landers, c/o Creators Syndicate, 5777 W. Century Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, Calif. 90045.

(C)1999, Creators Syndicate