Here’s a New Year’s resolution I hope local and national leaders make in a few days: Let’s require Americans, once again, to learn how to protect not only themselves but society as a whole. To do so would be in “the national interest,” of course, and during this time of crisis and terror, there’s no time like the present to get started.

It seems as though some leaders are already on the right track when it comes to better protecting American society in the wake of Sept. 11. For instance, earlier this month the New York Post reported that at least 500 NYPD officers will get new “high-powered weapons” such as “assault rifles” and “submachine guns” that were “at one time reserved for elite (police) units …”

The reason, say NYPD officials, is because in this post-Sept. 11 world – and, no doubt, since New York City suffered the worst of those attacks – more security and protection of citizens is needed. I agree with them wholeheartedly.

In picking up the Post’s lead, the New York Times also reported that “although the proposal” to better arm a number of officers “was in the works long before Sept. 11, it gained momentum in the weeks after the terrorist attacks.” Perhaps that’s true – after all, NYC was always considered a major terrorist target, especially after the first World Trade Center attack in 1993. It’s smart for the nation’s largest city to increase the firepower of its police department. These days cops can’t be too careful. I hope more departments nationwide do the same thing.

But civilians can’t be too careful, either, and it’s just as smart for all cities – big and small – to follow NYC’s lead. After all, despite proclamations to the contrary by anti-gun, “be-a-victim” groups, it really is the responsibility of all law-abiding people to protect this country, as well as our families and our communities.

If only more lawmakers agreed, perhaps we could finally make some serious headway toward a change that would legitimately enhance public safety at a time when public safety needs mucho enhancement.

In fact, many lawmakers already think so. Roll Call, the magazine that covers Capitol Hill, reported that since Sept 11, some of the staunchest gun-control supporters in Congress have bought firearms and have taken training.

“Congress certainly sees the benefits of armed individuals for its own safety,” wrote John R. Lott, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “More Guns, Less Crime,” in the February 2002 issue of Soldier of Fortune magazine. “Members of Congress can carry guns around the capitol grounds.”

So we’ve got more cops and more lawmakers getting more firepower. Yet there are still states, municipalities and cities that forbid – forbid, mind you – law-abiding people from protecting themselves like cops and lawmakers are allowed to do. Ironically, New York City is one of the biggest offenders – they will give 500 more cops bigger guns but maintain a ban on the carry of concealed weapons and the ownership of handguns by “ordinary” people. Amazing. Or, rather, amazingly stupid, arrogant and short-sighted.

Here’s the thing: If just cops get more firepower, then, in essence, would-be terrorists will not have to face a bigger deterrent. Why? Because would-be terrorists already know that cops carry guns – big or small, makes no difference. A cop is armed.

But it’s the uncertainty of having to face armed and trained civilians that lends well to deterrence. And I thought that’s what all of this is about – deterrence. Am I wrong?

Making police officers better armed is a good start, but it’s not enough to form a credible deterrent against determined terrorists. Americans themselves need to contribute to our overall security, and tens of millions want to – but can’t – because our leaders forbid them from doing so.

How stupid.

I’m not saying more guns will stop the kind of hijacking attacks that occurred Sept. 11. Neither is the New York Police Department. But clearly the department is convinced that better-armed officers are a legitimate deterrent to future terrorist acts. Why, then, wouldn’t that same principle apply to a well-armed and trained society?

Let’s hope the White House, along with state houses across the nation, resolves to tear down the legal barriers that prevent ordinary people from adopting at least one national security policy favored by the nation’s largest police force.

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