In response to E. J. Dionne Jr.'s April 16 op-ed column, "NRA Defeat," I would like to point out that the entire issue of law-abiding people legally carrying concealed handguns revolves around the question of whether people have a reasonable need to protect themselves from crime. Many people believe that they do have such a need because, no matter how conscientious police officers are, they cannot protect everyone all the time. When protection by public authorities fails, people must depend on themselves.

Mr. Dionne concludes his column by saying that the "better path" is for people to . . . decide that we don't want to become a nation armed to the teeth and insist that public authorities have an obligation to their communities to get crime under control."

If public authorities could and would do this, then perhaps many law-abiding gun owners no longer would feel any need to arm themselves. But this is not the situation that exists today, because the U.S. judiciary, from local courts to the Supreme Court, repeatedly has ruled that public authorities have no legal responsibility to protect any individual against what the Supreme Court refers to as "private violence."

In DeShaney v. Winnebago County DSS (1989), the Supreme Court stated that nothing in the due process clause of the 14th Amendment (the legal statute generally used to sue government agencies for failure to protect individuals from harm) "requires the state to protect life, liberty, and property of its citizens against invasion by private actors."

In Bowers v. DeVito (1982), a U.S. court of appeals stated that "there is no constitutional right to be protected by the state against being murdered by criminals or madmen. It is monstrous if the state fails to protect its residents from predators, but it does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment or, we suppose, any other provision of the Constitution."

In Warren, et al. v. District of Columbia (1981), the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld the decision of a D.C. Superior Court judge in dismissing a lawsuit against the District government and the Metropolitan Police Department for "negligent failure to provide adequate police services." In this case, three women living in the Capitol Hill area were repeatedly assaulted, raped and robbed by several men who broke into their house -- even though the women twice called the police and requested assistance. The court ruled that "a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any particular individual citizen."

In such situations, many people feel that they have no option but to depend on themselves for protection against criminals.

ROBERT CRITCHLOW

Arlington

Those at The Post who wrote the post-Littleton editorials calling for banning handguns [April 26, April 28] would do well to review the results of banning of all handguns in the United Kingdom in reaction to the 1996 school massacre at Dunblane, Scotland. This ban actually affected only some 240,000 law-abiding Britons who had duly registered their handguns.

Two Labor Party members of Parliament, quoted in the London Daily Telegraph after the ban went into effect, stated that an estimated 1 million to 2 million handguns still would remain unaccounted for after all the registered handguns had been confiscated, and that thousands more were entering the country illegally each month. This took place in a country that has long had some of the world's strictest gun controls and whose population is generally law-abiding and nonviolent. Banning handguns did nothing, for example, to prevent the April 26 handgun murder in London of enormously popular TV star Jill Dando at 11:30 a.m. on her front doorstep, nor can it prevent any future murders.

There are, however, gun controls that work. For example, Project Exile -- in which criminals charged with gun violations are automatically tried in federal courts, which can seek longer sentences and send those convicted to faraway federal prisons -- has been very successful in reducing gun crimes in Richmond. And instant background checks are backed both by gun-control groups and the NRA.

As to Littleton, it should be noted that of the four guns used, only one was a handgun. Also, of some 230 million guns in the United States, about a dozen were used in the six most recent school shootings. Moreover, of some 15 million U.S. high school students, six were involved in these shootings (in addition to two grade-schoolers).

How, then, can one draw from these rare cases any general conclusions about gun violence, the state of our culture or high school behavior?

WILLIAM LLOYD STEARMAN

Rockville