IT'S BEEN a busy summer for the master gun-worshippers of the National Rifle Association -- whose troops have been all over Capital Hill, methodically whipping up an ugly legislative surprise for all who believe in reasonable controls on handgun traffic. The NRA threat this year is double-barreled: if unchecked, it would mean 1) the end of almost all existing federal regulations of guns and 2) a go-ahead for handgun purchases by certain convicted felons and for free-wheeling interstate traffic in all sorts of pistols, machine guns and other firearms that can hardly be considered as sporting equipment.

Besides the old pistol-packers' game of loading key politicians' pockets with campaign contributions, this round of gun-lobby efforts includes sneak attacks to undo votes just taken in Congress that have gone against the NRA. Thanks to cooler heads in the House and Senate committees that traditionally consider gun-control legislation, the gun lobby's initial efforts were voted down. But now the NRA, having disguised its free-for-all gun proposal as a "Federal Firearms Reform Bill," seeks to slip its proposals into law in the form of an amendment to the Criminal Code Bill. In the House, where a committee voted 22 to 5 against the effort to repeal gun controls, a variation may be tried.

Whatever the camouflage, people shouldn't be fooled by this destructive legislative attempt to repeal the reasonable, minimum gun controls that do exist. The 1968 Gun Control Act, which the NRA would repeal, was enacted after the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to put some basic safety rules on the books: licensing of gun dealers, bans against certain types of weapons such as machine guns, prohibitions against sales to out-of-state residents and against gun trafficking by convicted felons.

None of this has, or would, disarm the sportsman. National polls have shown time and again that a solid majority of Americans support federal handgun controls to place some responsibility on handgun ownership and handgun commerce. If thoughtful legislators respect this desire, and if they stop listening to a narrow special-interest lobby, the scant controls now on the books can be preserved.