The truly absurd letter from J. Warren Cassidy, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association {Free for All, Oct. 3}, reminds us, once again, of the need for close public scrutiny of everything the NRA does. As a career police officer and law enforcement executive, I have concerns that are heartfelt and based on experience.

Cassidy claims the NRA's ad campaign is a "responsible series of paid communications to alert law-abiding citizens to their constitutionally guaranteed rights to firearms ownership and self-protection." This statement is highly questionable. If the NRA were truly interested in telling citizens about their constitutional rights in a responsible way, then there would be no need to attempt to panic them by conducting a national "alert" on constitutional privileges that are now more than 200 years old.

The fact is that these advertisements serve only to scare people into thinking that the best way to protect themselves from crime is to get a gun, which, incidentally, is not a right guaranteed by the Constitution to citizens but to the militia. What's worse, the ads could drive people away from working cooperatively with police officials to fight crime and improve the delivery of services -- the most promising crime-prevention activity. When the NRA tells the public "America's police can't always be there to defend you the moment you need them," it suggests that a gun will always be there to afford protection and, therefore, the gun will make you safe from crime.

As anyone who has handled a gun during an exchange with a criminal knows, it is just not all that easy. Highly trained and qualified individuals with years of experience in the proper use and operation of a gun can, and all too often do, lose their lives or receive horrible injuries in battles with criminals. There is no reliable evidence anywhere that supports the notion that just because you have a gun you will be able to defend yourself effectively.

One needs to consider the myriad number of things that can go wrong in any armed confrontation. Even in states with so-called make-my-day laws, citizens have experienced the sheer horror that goes with shooting a human being, especially an innocent person. Consider the times that a child has killed or maimed a brother or sister by having access to a family weapon intended for "protection."

There also is no myth, as Cassidy suggests, in the suggestion that the NRA and law enforcement authorities are no longer allies. Statements like those contained in his ads serve only to widen the considerable gulf between these groups. Responsible members of society are simply going to have to keep reminding these NRA people that their approach may truly cause more suffering and pain than it will prevent.

Fred Rainguet

Congress recently banned the sale of new machine guns to private persons. This is the first federal ban of any class of firearms. It presents the perfect opportunity to assert the argument that an individual right is protected by the Second Amendment. If the NRA had any confidence in the strength of its Second Amendment argument, it would test the new law and bring the issue to the Supreme Court for the first time since 1939. The NRA has failed to launch a viable attack on the constitutionality of the law because it knows there exists no individual right to keep and bear arms, and no federal court has ever ruled otherwise. The NRA realizes that if such a case were to reach the Supreme Court, the NRA would lose one of its most effective propaganda tools.

Furthermore, the NRA knows that there is no constitutionally protected right to self-defense with a firearm. This argument has been made by pro-gun groups in the courts and has been rejected. The federal court that upheld the Morton Grove, Ill., handgun ban stated, "Never has the {Supreme} Court recognized anything like a right to self-defense, or a right to carry handguns, based either on the penumbra theory or directly under the Ninth Amendment."

In conclusion, the National Coalition to Ban Handguns hereby issues a challenge to J. Warren Cassidy and the NRA to file a lawsuit designed to prove the existence of the "rights" the NRA so often cites to bolster its otherwise insupportable arguments. Failure to seize the unique opportunity presented by the recent federal machine gun ban will be interpreted as an admission by the NRA that there is no constitutional barrier to strict federal gun control measures.

Michael K. Beard

The writer is executive director of the National Coalition to Ban Handguns.