THE LATEST stray-gunfire victim may be the most innocent of all, a 5-month-old baby boy who was seated with his mother and a man on an apartment stoop in Southeast Friday, when they were shot in an attack by two masked gunmen. The man, apparently the intended victim, is dead. The mother is hospitalized. The baby -- guiltless as a lamb -- is in critical condition.

As with hundreds of other children caught in the city's violence, the wounded baby did not elect to enter this world. Neither did he choose to live in a neighborhood where drugs, gangs or gun battles flourish. But because he is being raised in circumstances he is helpless to control, he fights today for his life.

It is hard to see how city leaders -- the D.C. Council, mayor and law enforcement; the courts, business and religious communities -- can claim a clear conscience. The violence shocking city hall didn't start last week with the killing of a grandmother ushering children out of gunfire. The shadow of sudden death has been haunting communities in this city for years. We commend to you Post writer John Fountain's story of Saturday, "Survival 101: `Get Down,' " for a real-world account of life in the city's largest public housing project, East Capitol Dwellings.

"When an argument erupts among the young men who deal drugs or shoot craps on the cracked concrete walkway, run home. If you can't make it home before the shooting starts, run to a neighbor's.

When the shooting starts -- when the semiautomatic gunfire claps like thunder and the bullets begin to rain -- take cover. Move away from the windows. Hit the floor. . . . If you can't just stay down. . . . Lie still. That's the drill. Survival 101."

"That's the best we can tell them," one mother told Mr. Fountain. No child should have to live that way. Not in the nation's capital, where leaders are constantly lecturing about the rights of others. Those mothers should be able to tell their children that real help is on the way. Even if it is too late for a baby only 5 months old.