ONCE AGAIN, THIS country faces another tragedy.

As a mother, I'm deeply saddened by the loss of lives at Virginia Tech. I pray for the students and all those who lived through the ordeal, and the families who lost their loved ones.

Of all the reports and stories that have followed, the most disturbing are those purporting to say that if the kids on campus had had guns, if people were carrying concealed weapons, that this would not have happened.

Of course, that assumes people believe that carrying a concealed weapon is the "answer" to this type of incident. If so, we'd also have to believe the following:

1. Bad guys always draw and fire slower than good guys do.

2. Victims are never caught by surprise.

3. Victims are never shot in the back.

4. Nobody can return fire if they've been hit by a bullet.

(Two men in Utah had a duel at short range from each other in a parking lot in the late '70s. Between them, six shots were fired. Both died at the scene. This is but one example that gun battles can continue even after one or more shooters is hit.)

5. Innocent bystanders are never hit.

The bottom line is that it's better to prevent the shooting from starting in the first place.

There is talk of security, anger management, video games, etc.

But we must ask the question — why is our country the leader of gun violence, and especially these types of mass shootings?

Do people in other countries not have security guards, anger and video games? The only difference between us and them is that we make it as easy as possible for people to get a hold of mass-killing machines, all in the name of the so-called "right to bear arms."

Our own president felt the need to mention this "right" before he gave his condolences to the families and survivors of the Virginia Tech massacre.

Now this "right" has gone way beyond its intentions and is infringing on OUR right to keep our children safe. When Germany suffered a mass shooting at a school, they changed their gun laws. When Australia suffered a mass shooting, they changed their laws.

We have done nothing. Nothing after Columbine, nothing after Red Lake, nothing after Nickel Mines, nothing after all the many shootings in between.

We need to have a dialogue about what solutions will help PREVENT gun violence, what laws will work to prevent these tragedies and still maintain the rights of those law-abiding citizens who choose to own a firearm. Other countries have figured out how to do this.

If we are honest with ourselves, we can recognize the need for some people who have been attacked to respond with the desire to attack back.

During the last 10 to 12 years, we've permitted the gun lobby to keep us in that place — a place of fear and anger. The result has been almost universal conceal-and-carry weapons laws, allowing the assault-weapons ban to expire rather than to repair its weaknesses, and the new shoot-first laws that have passed in an alarming number of states.

Yet the FBI's crime reports have illustrated that all these guns have not had the desired effect — in fact, violent crime with guns is increasing. It is time for our country to have an open and honest discussion about our propensity for violence.

IT'S NATURAL for the owner of a shooting range or gun shop to advocate for more guns — it is, after all, his business.

However, if we allow the profit motive of the gun industry to dictate gun policy, we've cheated the safety of our communities. We need to balance the safety of our children and families against unfettered access to any gun at any time.

It's time for this country to decide:

Who comes first? Our kids or our guns? *

Barbara Montgomery is president of the Pennsylvania Million Mom March Chapters of the Brady Campaign.