Mayor Marion Barry, acknowledging that handguns are plentiful in Washington despite a stiff gun-control law, appealed yestersay to city residents to surrender their guns to the police department -- "no questions asked."

Barry said those persons who own guns legally and keep them in their homes for protection should give up the guns and acquire alarm systems instead. "Most of the deaths by guns involve people who knew each other -- [killed] either by accident or in a fit of rage," Barry said.

The mayor made his suggestion at his regularly scheduled monthly news conference, but hours later he said he had misspoken and had only intended to urge owners of unregistered handguns to turn them in.

"People who own guns legally should keep them," Barry said last night.

Speaking about the city's rising crime rate at his morning news confrence, Barry volunteered that he rountinely carried a pistol during his days as a community activist and on "at least eight" occasions had a gun pulled on him by would-be street robbers.

The mayor made his suggestion at his regularly scheduled monthly news conference, but hours later he said he had misspoken and had only intended to urge owners of unregistered handguns to turn them in.

Barry blamed the city's rising crime rate, which is now 29 percent higher than a year ago, on increased drug traffic and high unemployment, not his 23-month-old administration. "Crime is up in all the major cities," he said. "You can't say the leadership is bad all over the country. People know I'm not responsible."

Barry said that he does not believe the District needs more police officers. Rather, he said, deployment of the city's 3,650 current officers is the issue, with too many officers sitting behind desks "when they should be out on the street."

The mayor said later that rank-and-file officers were resisting his efforts to put more police on the streets. He said there is a "conspiracy" in the police department to leak to the news media reports of particularly violent crimes and blame them on cost and manpower constraints imposed by Barry.

"They [the police] don't like the fact that I'm hard on their budget, and they don't like the fact that I want them to get from behind those desks," Barry said.

Barry's comments were his first statement about crime in the wake of several well-publicized killings in Washington -- including the Dec. 5 slaying of physician Michael Halberstam -- and the shooting in New York last week of singer John Lennon.

Still, Barry emphasized that as mayor of the city he has little power to change many of the factors he believes are fueling the upsurge in crime.

"The whole nation hasn't been able to do anything about unemployment," he said. "Heroin is coming in everywhere. What can I do?"

In 1976, the city adopted a tough, new handgun control law designed to "freeze" the number of guns in Washington. It forbade any new purchases of handguns and required all those in the city to be registered.

Last June, the U.S. Conference of Mayors released results of a study -- challenged by D.C. police and gun lobbyyists -- purporting to show a significant decrease in handgun-related crimes here since the law went into effect.

Barry said yesterday he believed the City's gun registration laws are not working. "There are a lot of illegal guns in the District," he said. "It's easy to get a gun on the street."

Barry said yesterday he routinely carried a pistol when he was codirector of Youth Pride Inc., a self-help organization working with hardcore unemployed youth in the city. "At least eight times," he said, would-be robbers drew guns on him. On two instances, they tried to shoot the guns, but the weapons did not fire, Barry said.

Barry said he never fired his weapon.

While still a member of the City Council, Barry was wounded in the chest, by a pellet from a shotgun blast fired when two Hanafi Muslims invaded the District Building and seized several hostages on March 9, 1977.