THE HANDGUN hucksters who run the National Rifle Association should turn up their police radios -- and listen to what law enforcement authorities are saying about them these days. Police and others on the firing line protecting the public are furious at the NRA's persistent lobbying for 1) armor-piercing "cop-killer" bullets, 2) the sale of new machine guns, 3) quickie sales and easier carrying of handguns and 4) sales of undetectable plastic handguns. The question they are posing in a series of advertisements by Handgun Control, Inc., is blunt: "Has the NRA gone off the deep end?"

On Thursday, Dewey Stokes, national president of the 189,000-member Fraternal Order of Police, came to the Capitol to underscore the concern of rank and file: "I can assure you we are fed up with the violence perpetrated by these handguns -- or the potential of these handguns. We overwhelmingly passed this resolution, not only {for a ban on undetectable handguns} but {on} the importation and possession of plastic undetectable handguns. . . . We are also in favor of the seven-day waiting period" for handgun purchases. . . . I don't have any problem with the NRA membership. I think it's the NRA leadership. . . ."

The Fraternal Order of Police does not favor banning handguns, he noted, but does strongly support "sensible legislation." In his advertised message, the organization leader says "it appears to law enforcement that the NRA leadership is now putting the profits of its gun backers ahead of the public interest. . . . While we in law enforcement believe law-abiding citizens have a right to own guns, we believe there must be some common sense with this right."

Others have had sharp words for the gun lobby as well. From Omaha Police Chief Robert Wadman: "I used to think of the National Rifle Association as a friend. I still believe most NRA members are friends of law enforcement. . . . But something's gone terribly wrong with the priorities of the NRA's leaders. . . . Their current legislative campaign makes no sense."

From Police Chief Joseph McNamara, San Jose, Calif.: "Their actions make our jobs more difficult -- and more dangerous. And they've poured millions of dollars into local elections, seeking to intimidate public officials who dare to speak out. If you're an NRA member, please start questioning your leadership."

From Minneapolis Police Chief Anthony Bouza: "My quarrel, and that of a growing number of my law enforcement colleagues, is with the NRA leaders' mindless defense of weapons which pose a threat to the public safety."

How long will the NRA leaders remain indifferent to these messages? More important, how long will it be before enough members of Congress shake off the pressures and the campaign money of the NRA and vote to protect those who take terrible risks to protect their communities?