DEAR ABBY: The letters from ''Grieving Grandmother'' and Anne Coakley were tragic reminders of the problem of guns in our nation. Unfortunately, such episodes get little attention from the media except on a local newscast or in the back pages of the local paper. They aren't ''news.'' It happens all too often. It takes a school massacre to get the national notice the situation deserves.
Perhaps what needs to be done is to have a running ''scoreboard'' set up in New York's Times Square: a continuing count of the gun deaths in the entire nation since the start of every year. The count could even be categorized by accidental deaths and murders. Running messages could give the particulars of the latest death as to date, location and the victim's age.
I realize this is a macabre suggestion. However, some drastic measure is needed to engage the public's full awareness of the magnitude of our problem. I also realize that it would require a great deal of money to rent the sign and acquire the necessary information. However, perhaps some organization or philanthropist would be interested. -- CONCERNED OCTOGENARIAN, ST. ALBANS, W.VA.
DEAR CONCERNED: Your suggestion is no more macabre than the billboards that advertise the number of deaths per year from smoking. Frankly, I think billboards addressing serious issues are a public service.
To embellish on your idea just a little -- the gun-death scoreboard could be designed to look like a game in a shooting gallery. Every time the death toll increases, a bell could ''ding!'' and a duck could disappear from the screen. It's really not so far-fetched -- as it stands today, almost all of us are sitting ducks. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: You've printed several letters lately about gun safety. Let me tell you about a near-fatal gun accident that happened in 1944 aboard the submarine USS Cato.
The gunner's mate first class brought a 20 mm submachine gun into the crew's mess and proceeded to use one of the tables to disassemble, clean and oil the weapon.
Although he was an experienced weapons handler, he forgot the first safety regulation: ''Inspect your weapon and be certain it is EMPTY.''
When he carelessly pulled the trigger, the weapon fired. The bullet ricocheted off the bulkheads and over the heads of eight or nine of us shipmates. Miraculously, it missed all of us and providently wound up in the left upper arm of the gunner's mate!
During the gunner's mate's court-martial, the executive officer remarked, ''So, you shot yourself. It serves you right! I hope you learned something.''
He was reduced to third class, and at the end of that patrol was transferred off the ship in disgrace. The gunner's mate ''learned something,'' all right -- he learned that his shipmates could be cruel in their sarcasm for weeks after.
I learned something from that incident, too. I am now 80, and in all these years I have never owned or kept a gun in my house. -- LOWELL K. ALLEN, RCMS (SS) U.S. NAVY (RET.)
DEAR LOWELL: You and your shipmates had a close call. It brings home the point that expertise with weapons doesn't guarantee they are always handled safely. Gun enthusiasts often write to say, ''Guns don't kill people; people kill people.'' However, people are human, and human beings have accidents. It's human nature.
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