IF THERE were a Christmas mail-order catalogue for globe-hopping terrorists, next year's hot item would surely be a snappy new plastic and -- here's the best part -- undetectable handgun, perfect for breezing right through those annoying security devices at airports and other places where unknowing victims gather. But if enough members of a Senate subcommittee vote today to side with the Secret Service, law enforcement organizations and every major association connected with air travel, legislation to ban this nasty little firearm could be on its way through Congress. While they're at it, these same senators can -- and should -- vote for another lifesaving proposal strongly supported by law enforcement groups: a reasonable waiting period on handgun sales.

As always, there is a thick gunpowder smoke screen being fired up by the National Rifle Association, strong political arm of the world's suppliers of deadly weapons. The NRA line on plastic handguns is that they don't really exist yet and that this is much ado about nothing. But at least one gun manufacturer has testified that the production of plastic handguns is just a year away, while security devices capable of detecting these weapons are two to 10 years in the future. S.465 -- whose bipartisan supporters include Sens. Strom Thurmond, Howard Metzenbaum, Edward Kennedy, Nancy Kassebaum, John Chafee, Chris Dodd and Paul Simon -- would ban these weapons.

At a hearing on the Hill in July, Stephen Garmon, deputy director of the Secret Service, endorsed this measure, noting that protection of presidential candidates would become extremely difficult if the production of plastic guns were allowed. An official of the Air Transport Association has noted that over the past 14 years, nearly 8 billion people have been screened at U.S. airports, with more than 36,000 firearms detected, resulting in roughly 16,000 related arrests and the prevention of an estimated 117 hijackings.

The pivotal vote in the six-member subcommittee today is said to be that of Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. The decision for all members should be to support the men and women in law enforcement who are on the front lines to protect themselves and the public from the all-too-free trafficking in concealable deadly weapons. A vote for S.465 is a vote for public safety