BEFORE members of the House go home to seek new leases on their political lives, there is some important business they should want to transact before talking too much about drugs, drug-related crimes and murders. Given just a bit of time on the House floor, they could -- and should -- strike a blow for their police and for all Americans who worry more than a little bit about the free-and-easy flow of firearms to criminals and drug cartels. Nobody is talking here about any elaborate proposal that would threaten law-abiding owners of weapons for sporting or collection or even self-defense purposes. What police officers nationwide are seeking is 1) a ban on military-style assault weapons and 2) approval of the Brady bill, which would require a national, seven-day cooling off period for purchase of handguns.

Any argument that Congress is "too busy" to schedule these two votes pales when you consider that both proposals have undergone full consideration not just during this Congress but in earlier years. All that would be needed for a vote on the Brady bill, for example, would be for the House leadership to set aside an hour for debate. The alternative -- letting things slide until next year -- leaves a record of 60 people killed each day, or 23,000 a year. Isn't it worth trying to save even a few lives by approving these proposals? Police chiefs believe so, as does the vast majority of their rank-and-file officers who are threatened daily by the traffic of high-powered firearms and the quickie sales of handguns to those who might be stopped by a routine check between purchase and pickup of weapons.

No, these measures won't save all the lives or even keep determined criminals and high-powered drug-cartel leaders from arming themselves. But why make it so easy, why deny law enforcement authorities the protection they have been pleading for? This is not a partisan matter, nor should it be an issue dividing gun owners and those who aren't. Leaders of the National Rifle Association like to portray it this way, but more and more gun owners are realizing that life with legitimately purchased guns is safer when criminals can't walk in and whisk up a handgun from a store along the highway or when they can't blow away innocent bystanders with assault-style weapons spraying into a crowd.

The House should be given an opportunity to go on record on both proposals.