By Alan Gottlieb and Joe Waldron

History will remember Ronald Wilson Reagan as one of America’s greatest presidents, but long before he was recognized as the man who won the Cold War, or was the hero of countless “B” movies, he was a genuine hero to a woman named Melba King.

According to recently-surfaced reports, when Reagan was a radio sportscaster in Des Moines, Iowa back in the fall of 1933, he came to the rescue – gun in hand – of King, who was then a 22-year-old nursing student. King recently recalled the incident to a Des Moines television station, noting that a mugger had come up from behind to rob her, outside the rooming house where Reagan was living. The robbery was thwarted when Reagan appeared in a second-floor window, gripping a .45-caliber pistol, and telling the mugger to “leave her alone or I’ll shoot you right between the shoulders.”

Small wonder, then, that the man who would later become president understood the value of gun ownership. During his time in office, President Reagan signed the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which was written to protect law-abiding gun owners from harassment for merely exercising their constitutional right to own firearms.

President Reagan most assuredly understood that honest gun owners are not a threat to anyone, and neither are they a threat to national security or their own neighborhoods. After all, the man took a bullet less than three months into his first term, yet he never used that as an excuse to make his office a bully pulpit for gun bans or repeal of the Second Amendment. He clearly separated the act of madman John Hinckley from the everyday actions of millions of legally-armed citizens.

When he was in office, his detractors repeatedly alluded to him sneeringly as a “cowboy.” Not coincidentally, the so-called sophisticates and intellectuals of another era said that same thing about another great president, Theodore Roosevelt. President Roosevelt, of course, was the genuine article, having worked a ranch in Montana and once bringing in some outlaws at gunpoint. Roosevelt was a hunter, shooter and a pretty courageous soldier, so being called a cowboy did not seem to bother him, and neither did it bother Ronald Reagan.

Cowboys, you see, are widely known in both legend and fact for their ability to face a problem and just deal with it. Confronted by a stampede, cowboys don’t call for a public opinion poll or gather around the campfire to confer with one another, they jump in the saddle and stop the stampede.

Ronald Reagan came from America’s heartland, where they still understand the difference between talking and doing. Not too many years before Reagan’s birth, the good citizens of Coffeyville, Kansas did it “the cowboy way” when the infamous Dalton Gang showed up to attempt the nation’s first dual bank robbery, on Oct. 5, 1892. It turned into a disaster because the armed townsfolk literally shot the Daltons to pieces.

Sixteen years prior to that, the residents of Northfield, Minnesota reacted swiftly when the James-Younger gang robbed their bank and killed a teller. Northfield residents didn’t call a town council meeting to “find a solution.” History documents what happened to the James-Younger gang that day.

Perhaps that “cowboy” philosophy is what separates great men from those of lesser accomplishment. Who else but Ronald Reagan could have challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” and see it happen?

Mr. Reagan was later to acknowledge that the .45 in his hand that night in Des Moines wasn’t loaded. But Reagan understood the deterrent value of firearms in the hands of common citizens, and obviously so did the robber. And so do millions of legally-armed Americans today who live rather peaceful lives due in no small part to the fear criminals have that their next intended victim might just terminate their career.

President Reagan was a man of common values with the uncommon good sense not to compromise them. He learned from personal experience that good people could, and should, be trusted with firearms, and that their civil rights – including the right of self-defense – are not negotiable. That’s as true today as it was that night in 1933.