THE HOUSE of Representatives is a very busy place at this time of year, and no one expects the leadership to push every last bit of legislation through before it's time to head for the hustings. But when a relatively uncomplicated yet most important public safety bill has been considered up and down and sideways for years -- and has cleared a committee by a 27-to-9 vote two months ago -- the leadership should be able to clear an hour for debate and a floor vote before the session ends. The measure is known as the Brady bill, because it was inspired by former President Reagan's press secretary, Jim Brady -- who has as much reason as any shooting victim in America to seek help on the Hill. Mr. Brady, along with every major law enforcement agency in the country, is pressing for passage of a bill that would require a national, seven-day cooling-off period for purchase of handguns.

If House Speaker Tom Foley has any doubts about the strength of support for the Brady bill, he might take a look at the latest Gallup Poll -- in which 95 percent of the people surveyed say they support a seven-day waiting period before a handgun may be purchased. What this suggests -- quite apart from what the NRA lobbyists would have everyone believe -- is that gun owners, too, support this sensible attempt to slow down quickie sales of concealable weapons to people who can be traced as criminals. Nobody except the dogmatic leaders of the NRA lobby in Washington believes this measure is part of some sinister plot to disarm citizens across the land; on the contrary, it's an attempt to weed out those who threaten, wound and kill people with handguns picked up with few or no questions asked at the store.

Dewey Stokes, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, is one of many leaders of law enforcement organizations who is more than a little concerned about the failure of Speaker Foley to hold a vote. He asks, "Should we wait until the blood of law enforcement officers and of citizens runs into the floors of Congress until we pass a piece of sensible legislation?" There's no telling how many lives a day might be saved, of course, but there is telling evidence that a lot are lost: 60 a day, or 23,000 a year. The stories about heavily armed, clearly troubled and cold-blooded killers terrorizing others on the streets, in office buildings and at all sorts of other sites keep turning up regularly on TV and in the newspapers. Isn't there time for a vote in the House?