"Gun control" has been injected into today's Maryland primary races for United States senator. Background information may therefore be useful.

To those who become emotional about their right to own handguns, any "gun control law," however mild, is regarded as a prelude to the confiscation of all guns. Red-blooded Americans would be left without weapons with which to foil a would-be dictator.

At the other extreme are those who become emotional about the danger of guns and want to make it illegal for anybody to own any weapon for any reason -- presumably not even a steak knife, a hammer, a cane or a woman's high-heeled slipper.

To those of us who understand what makes supporters of both these extreme positions so emotional, the term "gun control laws" means many things. To me, it means laws that protect a qualified citizen's right to own a weapon, but only under specifically described terms.

My kind of law would require that all guns be registered to their owners, just as automobiles are.It would demand that a prospective owner demonstrate that he can operate his gun safely, just as he must now demonstrate that he can drive safely before he obtains a driver's license.

My law would spell out specific criteria for determining who is qualified and who is not. Convicted criminals would be barred from gun permits. So would persons with a record of mental or emotional instability. Minors would be ineligible. So would aliens, transients and others who do not have "community roots."

My law would, of course, also deal with a gun owner's responsibilities. It would prohibit guns from being carried about, much as our present "concealed weapons" laws specify. It would restrict guns to safe storage in homes and businesses for protective purposes. It would make the prompt reporting of gun thefts mandatory.

It would not, repeat not, ban all handguns willy-nilly. Such a law would be obeyed only by honest citizens, who would then become easy prey to criminals who ignored the law. The argument that we could "stop the gun traffic" by prohibiting all gun sales is pure nonsense. There are already between 50 million and 100 million guns in private hands, and it might take 100 years or more for existing guns to become inoperative with age. For 100 years, a man would not even be able to defend his home against a midnight break-in.

During the recently concluded session of the Maryland legislature, Sen. J. Joseph Curran introduced a bill to require a 21-day waiting period for anybody who wants to buy a handgun. The bill would have permitted the Maryland State Police to check the purchaser's record.

Curran's mild and reasonable "gun control" bill was defeated!

Three of the men who voted on it in the state legislature are now running for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate.

Let the record show that Edward T. Conroy and Victor L. Crawford voted against this "gun control" law. Robert L. Douglass voted for it.

In the Republican race, Dr. Roscoe G. Bartlett is attacking Sen. Charles M. Mathias's position on gun controls. Bartlett is against controls. He says, "One of the first things Hitler did was to pick up (citizens') guns." He concedes that gun control is not a major issue in this race, but some people are single-issue voters, and politicians must therefore "campaign on issues that help you win."

The implication is that Mathias favors gun controls, but Mathias's voting record does not bear this out.

Mathias is aware that Maryland's Joe Tyding was blasted out of the Senate by the gun lobby. Mac is a smart enough politician to avoid the error made by the turkey that decided to attend a turkey shoot because he was curious to find out what takes place at such events.

Mathias says he recalls only two or three occasions in the past decade in which he has had an opportunity to vote on gun laws of any kind. He voted against registration of guns and against licensing of owners. The only gun law he supported was the one to ban manufacture of "Saturday night specials." Dr. Bartlett's attack is therefore highly suspect.

I am not impressed by support for a law aimed at low-priced handguns. Such a law merely makes guns a bit more expensive. It does little to keep guns out of criminal hands.

I think those who vote in Maryland today have a legitimate interest in knowing where the candidates stand on gun controls of various kinds, especially the innocuous controls that merely give local policemen a chance to take a look at who it is that wants to buy a gun, and for what purpose.

However, I do not believe in single-issue voting. I think our gun policy is important, but I would not vote for or against anybody on that single issue. In fact, I don't even know what "gun control" means to each candidate or each voter.