The handgun-control lobbyists maintain that guns kill people. The right-to-bear-arms crowd says that guns don't kill people -- people kill people. Both groups are wrong. According to Arnold Crocus, a lethal weapons expert, bullets kill people.

To back up his theory, Arnold invited me to his laboratory, where he had an array of guns on the wall. He took one off the rack and told me to point it at a target and pull the trigger.

I did, and the gun went "click."

"Nothing happened," Crocus said, "therefore we know that guns don't kill people. Now pretend the target is someone you really hate."

I thought of someone, and stared at the target with all the anger I could muster. Once again nothing happened.

"This proves," said Arnold, "that people, at this distance, cannot kill people. Now I am going to place a round of ammunition into your gun, and I want you to pull the trigger."

I did as I was told. There was a loud explosion and the bullet went right through the target's heart.

"Well," said Arnold. "What do you conclude?"

"The only conclusion I can come to is that the bullet was the deadly weapon."

"Right. Now it's true that the bullet would not be able to penetrate the target unless it was fired through the barrel of the gun. And it is also true that the gun could not have been fired unless someone pulled the trigger. But without the bullet, the target would not have suffered any injury."

"That means," I said, "that the real problem America faces is not the plethora of handguns in this country, nor the people who use them, but the ammunition that is available to anyone who wants it."

"You got it. What this tells us is that it may be possible to satisfy both the right-to-bear-arms crowd and the handgun-control people at the same time. By permitting the sale of guns but prohibiting the manufacture or sale of ammunition, you make both sides happy."

"But the gun lovers will say that there is no sense owning a firearm if you can't fire anything out of it."

"Let them say it. They don't have a legal leg to stand on. There is nothing in the Constitution that says Americans have a right to bear bullets. n

"The mistake the handgun-control people have been making is that they keep trying to take handguns away from the people. This won't fly in Congress, because you have too many congressmen and senators from the South and the western parts of the country who would be committing political suicide if they voted for any such restrictions. But they could, in good conscience, vote to forbid the sale of any kind of ammunition to fit the guns. We wouldn't see any immediate results from the prohibition because most people have a stock of ammunition in their houses now. But it would either be used up or go rotten on them in time."

"What I like about your idea," I told Crocus, "is that the people who make handguns couldn't complain, because they could still sell them. And those who wanted to buy a gun could still obtain one without too much trouble. The only flak you'd get is from the bullet makers. How do you deal with them?"

"They can always make suppositories for duck hunters with the same equipment."

"Have you suggested this compromise to the handgun-control people and the gun lobby?" I asked.

"Yes, I have," he replied. "The handgun-control people are willing, at this stage, to try anything to stop the slaughter in this country. But the gun lobbyists are asking for more time to think it over. Without ammunition, they are afraid people might lose interest in owning handguns, and then they would all be out of jobs."

"Maybe they could join the U.S. Marine Corps. They're always looking for a few good men."