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Happiness is a warm gun

But not on a college campus. Or in a public school. Or on an airplane ...

We probably shouldn't be surprised that radio talk-show host Lars Larson refused to comply when Southern Oregon University asked him to leave his concealed weapon at home when he came to speak at the university's First Amendment Forum this week. Nor are we surprised that SOU officials rescinded their invitation to Larson as a result.

Larson, who has a reputation for shooting from the hip on the air, may appear to have shot himself in the foot over this one. After all, talk radio is the topic of this year's forum, and Larson is the best-known host in the state.

But let's not deceive ourselves. By taking what he characterizes as a stand on principle ' that he has the Second Amendment right to pack heat anywhere he chooses ' Larson gets the kind of publicity money can't buy.

His fans on the right side of the political spectrum will back him to the hilt, and his foes on the left will denounce him. That's exactly where he loves to be.

It's almost too easy to shoot his case full of holes. But just for fun, let's take a shot at it.

Larson says the state university system has no right to keep law-abiding citizens with concealed weapon permits from carrying a gun on campus. The fact that it has been state policy for decades carries no weight.

— OK. Does Larson think he should be able to stroll about an elementary school or a high school with a gun? Firearms are prohibited there, too.

How about airplanes? Larson would have trouble getting on a flight these days carrying a toenail clipper, let alone a handgun.

Has Larson visited Washington, D.C., lately? The law there, in place since 1976, prohibits anyone except police officers from possessing a handgun, and long guns must be kept unloaded with triggers locked.

That law is now being challenged in the Senate, despite protests of support from D.C. officials, who say the statute has made the district's once-deadly neighborhoods much safer.

The fact is, reasonable limits on constitutionally protected liberties have been upheld in the courts for years when they are enforced for the purpose of protecting the public. Universities have the responsibility ' and therefore, we would argue, the right ' to protect the safety of their students.

No one is telling Larson he can't own a handgun. And he apparently doesn't object to the concealed-carry law, because he obtained the necessary permit.

The real loser here is Larson himself. Sure, this flap will give him a lovely target to blaze away at on the air. But the First Amendment Forum on the role of talk radio will proceed without his input.

We suspect there are more than a few people who won't be unhappy about that.