THE WORLD'S purveyors of deadly weapons have their beady eyes on a brand new product designed to be the perfect gift for the traveling terrorist: it's the plastic handgun, ideal for trouble-free journeys through airport security systems and government-building checkpoints. You can rest assured that every world-class murderer on the international circuit would kill for this easily portable, neatly stashable tool of the trade -- which also is coming out in a convenient and equally undetectable ceramic model. There's only one hitch -- and anybody who's averse to airborne gunfire had better hope it succeeds: it's called S.465, the Anti-Terrorist Protection Act of 1987, a bill that would outlaw any such firearms that do not meet minimum standards of detectability. If common sense and an impressively broad coalition of sponsors can prevail, it should become law; and speed is important.

One indication of the importance of S.465 to law enforcement efforts is the fact that its bipartisan cosponsors include Strom Thurmond, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, to which the legislation has been assigned; Nancy Kassebaum; Chris Dodd; John Chafee; Howard Metzenbaum; and Edward Kennedy. The measure also enjoys the support of law enforcement groups from every part of the country -- men and women who are on the front lines and who are now taking an aggressive stand for more protection of citizens and crime fighters against the free trafficking of handguns into the wrong hands.

One of their most powerful enemies these days is the National Rifle Association, which continues to channel the money of legitimate sportsmen and collectors into the most farfetched defenses of the international handgun and ammunition industry. But more and more, those who prefer law and order in the finest sense -- who support their local police and who want to pull out the stops against international terrorism -- are stepping forward on behalf of sensible public safety measures. They're behind S.465 for that reason.