IF MEMBERS of Congress have any respect for law enforcement -- and for the police officers who put their lives on the firing line daily -- they should listen to what these men and women are saying this week about firearms violence across America. In an open letter advertisement, in petitions carrying more than 40,000 names of supporters and in visits to the Hill for years, representatives of major law enforcement organizations are urging Congress to act now -- before adjournment -- to stop the spread of deadly assault weapons and to provide a national seven-day cooling-off period for handgun sales. Their plea minces no words:

Noting that far too many officers are being killed, the letter observes that "politicians will rush to the funerals to pay their respects and be photographed with the survivors, but then fail to do anything to prevent the gun violence that threatens all our citizens. . . . The hundreds of thousands of members our organizations represent urge you to enact these public safety bills now. Yet because of pressure from the gun lobby, there are those among you who are working to defeat or postpone action on these sorely need measures. . . . Law enforcement can't win the drug war when arms are easily available to the enemy. Congress now has the clear opportunity to show your constituents that you're serious about winning and serious about standing up for the nation's law enforcement community. Help us stop the domestic arms race. Pass the assault weapon legislation and Brady bill now."

There is no need for extended debate on these two measures; both have been talked up and down and have won support in committees from those legislators who understand that this is a life-and-death matter to the police. Neither measure inconveniences legitimate gun owners -- collectors, hunters or other sporting enthusiasts. But both measures make it just that much more difficult for dangerous weapons to get into the hands of killers. Is this too much for police to ask of Congress before the members go home to talk about crime, drugs and international traffic in firearms? House leaders owe it to law enforcement officers as well as to their own members to schedule floor votes on each of the measures now -- before the next horrifying incident that "shocks" lawmakers but infuriates endangered, frustrated public safety officers from coast to coast.