TEN YEARS HAVE PASSED since Congress thought seriously about gun control. It's time to do something, and the chairmen of the judiciary committees of both houses have provided the means. Identical bills just introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Peter Rodino would take the logical next step to reduce the number of Americans killed each year by bullets fired from handguns.

During the Vietnam War more Americans were killed by handguns in the United States than by combat in Indochina. Last year, handguns were the weapons used in almost half the murders committeed in the nation. About two million new handguns are added each year to the civilian arsenal, which is not conservatively estimated to include at least 50 million of these weapons. That's right: 50 million .

The impact of the 1968 act, designed to cut the supply by barring their importation, was diluted by a provision that permits the importation of parts and the assembly of the weapons themselves here. The Kennedy-Rodino bill would eliminate that provision. It would also limit the commerce in handguns by mandating a waiting period before the purchase of such a gun could be completed, requqiring dealers to maintain records of who has bought each gun and barring sales to persons who have criminal records or a history of mental illness or drug addiction.

This law would not apply to rifles or shotguns. It does not require those who now possess handguns to turn them in. It would not bar individuals from buying handguns or from carrying them, provided a valid license is obtained from the local government.

It is a strong but reasonable control measure. If Congress will listen to that majority instead of the narrow segment of American society that sees a conspiracy behind every effort to slow down the slaughter, this bill will become law.