EVERY FIREARMS maker and marketer in the world knows that the biggest consumers anywhere for guns and ammo are Americans. Whatever is illegal in the gun-suppliers' home countries can be bundled for quick sales at great profit in the United States, where firearms can be scooped up and stockpiled with alarming ease. Though more and more people in the United States are calling for legal relief from gunfire, the availability and power of weapons continue to rise. For those who can't handle the prospect of life without assault weapons, cannons, bazookas or machine guns, the global purveyors of firearms keep coming up with new models ingeniously tooled to destroy, maim and kill.

One of the top lethal fashions for snipers and other big-bang thrill-seekers is the .50-caliber rifle -- the largest sniper rifle available to civilians. As reported by staff writers Barbara Vobejda and David B. Ottaway, this weapon gets rave reviews in gun magazines; and it is for sale only a few clicks away on the Internet.

In one test, a bullet from one of these sniper rifles blew through a manhole cover with ease. Its long-distance capacity is said to make this weapon ideal for assassination attempts. The Secret Service tried unsuccessfully to have it outlawed. It's even easier to buy than a handgun, because rifles are available to buyers as young as 18.

At prices often exceeding $6,000, these rifles are for upscale users, including drug dealers. Ronnie G. Barrett, owner of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing and designer of the first .50-caliber civilian sniper rifle, calls his M82A1 model "a toy for a big boy."

The difference here, of course, is that toys for little boys as well as girls are regulated for safety problems; but not so these big-boy killers. Rep. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California are drafting legislation that would ban these rifles for civilians except for competitive marksmen who belong to .50-caliber shooting clubs that would keep the guns under the clubs' control. Will the same members of Congress who left town without passing a single gun-control proposal rally around this legislation? Don't set your sights on it.