BOTH MEN HAVE said it before and are saying it again: D.C. Council Member H. R. Crawford and Police Chief Maurice Turner think that handguns have a place in the homes of Washington. It's called protection--which, if you accept this solution, presumes that existing law enforcement authorities for some reason are incapable of doing an effective enough job. It also assumes that an armed citizenry will be safer than one that cannot reach for that trusty weapon in the drawer whenever anybody seems to be threatening.

Were Mr. Crawford and Chief Turner to have their way--and, fortunately, neither the majority of the council nor the mayor would have it thus--the city's five-year-old freeze on handguns would be repealed. After all, the argument goes, the ban isn't stopping the flow of illegal handguns to criminals in the city, so why bother?

By itself--without similar controls in the adjoining states--the city's law is obviously only a start. But just because the suburbs are loaded is hardly a sensible reason to give official blessing to a still greater flow of arms into the city. And when you think about it, how "protected" will people feel when nearly everybody has a loaded handgun at the ready? Public safety, which is the police chief's business and everybody's concern, is threatened that much more when it's turned over to self-deputized amateurs with guns of steel and nerves of something less.