Maurice Turner, Mayor Marion Barry's nominee for D.C. police chief, said he believes citizens should be allowed to register and own handguns if they wish -- despite the city's stiff law against their doing so -- and criticized the law itself as having no effect on keeping criminals from getting guns.

"Criminals are still getting their hands on guns," Turner said in an interview broadcast over the weekend on WDVM-TV (Channel 9).

The law, enacted in 1977, is one of the toughest in the nation. It required the registration of all handguns then in private hands and bans residents from buying handguns in the District or bringing them into the District.

Turner said that the law did reduce the number of handgun assaults among relatives and friends, but has done little to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

"We recover 2,800 handguns a year in this department and less than five-tenths of one percent are registered," Turner said. "I don't see it being that much of a deterrent."

Asked whether he opposed the law itself, Turner said only that citizens of the United States have a constitutional right to bear arms and should be allowed to purchase and register them.

Councilman David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), chairman of the Judiciary Committee expected to vote Wednesday on Turner's nomination, said Turner is "misinformed" on the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on the right to bear arms. "He's been reading the NRA (National Rifle Association) versions of the Constitution. The Second Amendment does not give individuals the right to bear arms."

But Clarke said he felt assured that Turner would enforce the present law, whatever his personal views, and that Turner probably will receive the unanimous endorsement of the committee and the full council later this month.

Another committee member, H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), said he "unequivocally" supports the nomination and that he agrees with Turner's views on the law and the Constitution.

"Many of the laws in the District, even those with good intentions, go too far," Crawford said. "Let's face it, it's still quite easy to go across the (District) line and buy guns.Anyone who thinks the law is a deterrent is just whistling Dixie."

Barry, who last year had urged owners of unregistered handguns to surrender them, said that he and Turner "are together" on the issue and that he, too, opposes the D.C. ban on all handguns not registered before 1977.

Given the lack of a national ban on handguns, Barry said the "idea of gun control is to keep of guns, not eliminate them."