YOU DON'T have to be a munitions expert to answer today's lethal-weapons quiz: If handguns can be made more difficult for children to fire, shouldn't all new guns be made that way? This is the lifesaving rationale behind proposals to require that all new handguns be equipped with "child-proof" locks or other mechanisms. It is also what Gov. Parris Glendening wants done in Maryland -- which could make the state a leader in laws to protect kids from gunfire.

Maryland already is awash in guns sold by high-volume dealers whose inventories wind up in bad places. Legally purchased handguns have been traced not just to crimes but also to tragedies involving kids. As long as concealable guns continue to be marketed instead of banned, they should made as difficult to fire as possible.

Gov. Glendening has established a 21-member task force to study technology and draft legislation mandating that all new handguns in Maryland include some device to prevent them from being fired by children, thieves or other unauthorized users. Leading the task force will be Maryland Police Superintendent David B. Mitchell, who knows more than a little about firearms in the wrong hands.

Opponents argue that the technology for making "smart guns" isn't sufficiently developed yet, and that more work is needed on weapons that rely on fingerprint sensors, radio transponders or other systems to block all but the owner from firing them.

But why wait for the perfect, foolproof, computer-brainy handgun to materialize before mandating the best safety locks possible? One goal of the new task force is to examine all gun-safety features being developed and in so doing to increase pressures on manufacturers to speed their own research and retooling.

The best protection of all for kids and grownups alike would be a ban on the general marketing of concealable firearms. But for that approach to work well, the ban needs to be national and uniform. The District of Columbia's gun ban is a classic example of what happens when the states next door are loaded with weapons. At least Maryland could see to it that those next-door models in its stores are as difficult as possible for kids and criminals to pick up and fire.