DON'T COUNT on police officers anywhere in America to protect you against criminals -- the police are never there when you need them. That's today's loaded message from the trigger-happy leadership of the National Rifle (and Handy Handgun) Association. In a new series of madly twisted, full-page advertisements in newspapers around the country, the NRA fires off a barrage of spooky/weird questions that it answers every time with a not-too-subtle call to arms: the best way to handle criminals, according to the handgun-runners, is to pack a trusty equalizer and blast away. And don't let anybody try to stop you, either. Here, right from the NRA's hip, are some samples of the group's deadly invitation to anarchy:

Above an appropriately creepy close-up of a man's stocking-covered face is this question: "Should you shoot a rapist before he cuts your throat?" Quite aside from whether this assumes that a rape has already taken place, the answer for today's smart shopper is a loaded gun, tucked somewhere, somehow, ready to fire. After all, the NRA ad notes, "The U.S. Department of Justice found that only 3 percent of rape attempts are completed against armed victims." When you think about it, that's probably the way it tends to go.

"How much red tape is too much red tape when he threatens to kill you?" All right, time's up: "Any red tape is too much. Why should a threatened human being be forced to 'wait' weeks or months before she can acquire a firearm for legal defense?" Again, when you think about it, it's times like these that call for one-stop, quick-sale shopping, so the attacker doesn't have to cool his heels for too long.

Here's a toughie: "If you're attacked on your porch, do you want your neighbors to be opposed to gun ownership or members of the NRA?" Crime, says the NRA, "strikes without regard for your personal beliefs about firearms ownership." Besides, as yet another NRA ad notes, you can't rely on help from police: "Why can't a policeman be there when you need him? . . . If police can't protect you, who will?"

It's little wonder that more and more police organizations have risen in opposition to the NRA's arms-for-anybody, no-waiting-necessary campaign. It's a killer -- and law enforcement authorities and their families know all too well who gets killed when guns are in anybody's hands.