WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE between a rifle and a handgun?

Most of us know, but the National Rifle Association and its sugar-daddies-the manufacturers of guns both long and short -- don't care to see one. They're spending all sorts of dues money and industry profits to extol the virtues of concealable weapons along with rifles, even though many rifle-owning NRA members couldn't care less about handguns, and in fact would just as soon have nothing to do with the pistol plague in America.

To appreciate the rifle/gun association's point of view, however, you have to realize that there's gold in guns -- of any kind. The manufacturers don't make a big thing of it, but they suceed in dumping more than two million handguns onto the market each year. At this rate, soon even Venus de Milo will have arms. You're talking about a handgun market about to exceed a quarter of a billion dollars a year, with a big chunk of the business going to three large firms: Smith & Wesson; Sturm, Ruger & Co.; and Colt Industries.

So why make distinctions between pistols and rifles when guns are your bread and butter? That's why pistol-makers and their allies in the NRA's higher circles would have us believe that if the industry concedes anything at all to those who want some effective controls on gun traffic, it will eventually lead to terrible restrictions on riflery, hunting and other long-gun-uses.

That reasoning assumes that the average American doesn't see the difference between a handgun and a rifle. What you don't see happens to be the handgun-which is why it is handy for killing. And the more killings there are with handguns, the more likely other people are to arm themselves with the dangerous weapons. And the easier it is to buy one, the more dangerous the situation becomes.

Handguns should be taken off the wide-open market for good -- and when people can convince Congress to make this happen, maybe more Americans will live to see the difference.