IN SPITE OF high-sounding denials by the handgun-worshipping hierarchy of the National Rifle (and Assorted Concealable Weapons) Association, law enforcement authorities all around the country are infuriated by -- and fearful of -- the NRA's latest big push to put guns in the palms of almost any adult. It's all being sold in the name of self-defense -- with a purposely nervous-making message to the effect that police are somehow too busy or outgunned to protect the people who pay their salaries. The campaign has been effective, too. For the latest from the firing ranges, we take you to Florida, which -- in the words of one worried citizen -- has become the 12th and largest state to welcome you with open arms.

State lawmakers got so carried away there that they included a provision in their new gun-toting act that would have allowed Floridians to carry sidearms openly, without a permit. But police -- especially in urban south Florida -- objected so vigorously that even the never-give-an-inch NRA and other supporters of the law agreed to delay and reconsider that section. By way of explanation, the author of the original legislation now says "we did not authorize, nor did we intend to authorize, the open carrying of firearms."

It's a coincidence, of course, that this large loophole wasn't plugged until the roar of law enforcement authorities got too loud to ignore. Can you blame police for fearing the idea of handguns -- concealed or shining in the sunlight -- carried by almost anyone? To qualify for a permit to hide a weapon, all that the law requires is that you be 21, a state resident for six months and willing to pay $125 for a three-year license and submit to a $21 fingerprint check. You also have to prove you've taken a gun safety course -- but no matter if you can't hit anything you're aiming at, because accuracy is no requirement.

The whole idea, as the NRA would have it, is self-defense, and never mind if that trigger hand trembles just a bit -- or if that apparent intruder is just Dad getting home a little late, or perhaps a police officer on patrol in the alley. If you sincerely believe you're threatened, fire away. Who needs those police, anyway?