A Washington-based lobbying organization has charged American Catholic bishops with discriminating against the poor because of the church hierarchy's support of legislation to stop the sale of cheap handguns.

The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, in the August issue of its newsletter, Point Blank, has urged all gun-owning Catholics to boycott their church's collection plate until the bishops change their mind. The money withheld, the gun lobby groups suggests, should be sent instead to a politically conservative and pro-gun group called Catholics for Christian Political Action.

Earlier this year the Citizens Committee wrote a letter to the United States Catholic Conference challenging the hierarchy's position favoring a ban on cheap handguns known as Saturday night specials. Such a position, the committee charged, contradicts the church's "traditional care for the poor of all countries and the right to life of the helpless," because a ban on cheap handguns is "in effect, the denial of the means of self-defense to the poor.

"It is those who are unable to afford expensive handguns who, in the legitimate interests of defense of life, family and property against criminal aggressions, have recourse to the one effective means available to them, that is to the inexpensive handgun," the letter said.

The bishops' opposition to Saturday night specials "would put the church in the position of favoring the denial of the means necessary for the protection of the right of life at the same time that the church is officially promoting the right to life in other areas," the committee charged in the letter.

When the bishops declined to change their policy, the gun lobby group called for the diversion of church contributions to Catholics for Christian Political Action, which Point Blank identifies as "a pro-gun Catholic group.

The newsletter speculates that there are about 12.5 million Catholic gun owners, that if each of them contributes $1 a week to the church, "Catholic hierarchic officialdom would see its revenues decline by $12.5 million each week or $650 million per year" if all pro-gun Catholics joined the boycott.

If that doesn't change the bishops' minds, Point Blank suggested, "Gun-owning Catholic parents with children in Catholic parochial schools" could tell their pastor in polite but no uncertain terms that they're going to yank their kids out of those schools unless they're guaranteed that this anti-gun USCC propaganda is kept out of the school curriculum."