Musings from an old liberal who often finds himself thinking like a new conservative, whatever those terms mean in today's jumbled political world: New Conservative Corner:

Spring being the most glorious time in Washington, and this weekend being the peak of that season's gentle grace, I find myself furious at feeling almost unable to appreciate all the beauty flowering through the city. By some cruel twist of the calendar, this most perfect time coincides with the final agonies of computing my income taxes.

Another year, and even more terrible news. I look at those figures of; money earned, of taxes already paid through withholding and quarterly estimate installments, of deductions allowed, and then gaze at the stupefying amount yet to be paid -- somehow -- April 15, and throw up my hands in disgust, if not despair. It's those soaring, soaring, soaring, college bills that are to blame . . . It's that Schedule C extra income from all those speeches and TV shows that go for paying all those college bills . . . It's that infernal, infuriating, unfair U.S. tax system that strikes at citizens like me . . . It's the bloated federal government and its big spending, big social welfare programs, big giveaway foreign aid programs that put me in such a plight . . . .

Cut, Ronnie. Slash, Stockman. Chop, Congress. Onward, tax reformers. Charge, oppressed affluent Americans. Forward, tax shelter providers. To hell with the poor. Help poor old selfish me. I've seen the light. I've become a cantankerous, grumbling, middle-aged, middle-class fiscal conservative. Well, this weekend, anayway. Old Liberal Department:

Among readers responding to last week's handgun control column, one particularly deserves public reply. Philip C. Weber of Silver Spring says he can't decide whether the column "was mere emotional either or a well-calculated emotional appeal advocating the liberal's only solution to the gun problem, which is to disarm the law-abiding citizen." He goes on to say: "However much the liberal might 'abhor' violence and agonize about 'What kind of a people have we become?' he/she never, never, never wants to; punish the perpetrator of these inhuman crimes."

I'll not quarrel with the characterization of my emotional state, but I strongly disagree with the reader's premise. Of all the arguments advanced on this sorry subject of handgun control, none more distorts the issue than to say that citizens fall into two distinct ideological groups over it -- either "liberals" who are "anti-gun" or "conservatives" who are "pro-gun." Even more wrong-headed is the idea that only those on one side want to punish the criminals while all those on the other automatically want to "disarm the law-abiding citizen." Neither is true.

People who favor handgun controls are not soft on criminals. Any such claim is offensive nonsense. They are not against the bearing of arms per se. Many, myself, included, have borne them in the past. Many still do today. They do not fall into any easy ideological category. They do not believe controlling handguns will eliminate national violence. They do not think, in some misty-eyed way, that the absence of handguns will signal the cleansing of the human character and the removal of base instincts and actions. They understand that the arguments are complex, just as they know how serious the problem is. They have reason to believe it will grow worse unless strong action is taken. And they believe something else -- that controlling handguns is part of the answer.

So keep your rifles, shotguns and target pistols, Mr. Weber. Use them for sport, hunting, hobby or protection as you will. I and many others -- liberals, conservatives, moderates and mixtures of each, the third of which defines most of us -- will join you in working for tougher criminal penalties, too. I say jail for everyone who uses a handgun in a crime. But also ban the manufacture and sale of "Saturday Night Specials," whose only possible sporting use is for the purpose of slaying people; make it as easy and swift to trace handgun ownership as it now is with cars; don't sell anyone a handgun without first checking the person's criminal record and history of mental illness; and rigorously tighten controls over America's 170,000 handgun dealers and the ammunition they sell. Perhaps then we will come closer to forming that "more perfect union" and gaining those most basic of constitutional rights promised long ago:

" . . . Esblish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the General Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

The authors of those words didn't think of themselves as liberals or conservatives. They were merely proud to be called revolutionaries. Postscript:

No sooner were those words written than the mail delivery brought another handgun control view worth citing. Sister Lucilla Dinneen of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Bethany Hospital, Framingham, Mass., writes:

"I wonder if it ever occurred to the proponents of guns that the country's laws are a statement of its policies if, indeed, their enforcement is difficult or even impossible."

And, she says, "I wonder, too, if our politicians ever heard of Sparta, which relied on armed men. Everyone knows, Athens, of course, which relied on an enlightened citizenry."

Right on, sister. I'll buy your idelogy any day, in any season.