YOU MAY BE HEARTENED to learn that there are some responsible members of the 97th Congress who seriously believe that something can be done this year to separate those who shoot for sport from those who shoot to maim and kill. Their belief is embodied in a quite modest bill, sponsored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Rep. Peter W. Rodino Jr. If your favorite local representatives in Congress aren't among the co-sponsors, perhaps they should be offered a public opportunity to comment on it, for the measure consists of fairly fundamental proposals:

A ban on the manufacture, assembly or sale of Saturday night specials and other cheap handguns that are not used for sporting purposes, are not accurate beyond a range of 10 or 15 feet and are meant only to threaten or end human lives.

A ban on the sale of handguns by pawnshops.

A 21-day waiting period on sales of handguns, to allow dealers time to check with law enforcement authorities on the eligibility of prospective purchasers.

Provisions for manufacturesr to provide records of handgun transfers, so that weapons used in crimes can be quickly traced.

A mandatory minimum prison sentence of two years for anyone using or carrying a handgun during the commission of a crime.

This is hardly a strict set of rules, nor should it interfere at all with the activities of law-abiding gunowners. As Mr. Rodino notes in a Letter to the Editor on this page today, the bill's purpose is "to separate criminals from their guns" while allowing legitimate uses. Those who believe that it helps to keep a loaded handgun around for self-defense -- and we don't -- could go right on doing so; they might even take comfort in the knowledge that maybe, just maybe, a few criminals or mentally troubled neighbors couldn't buy those cheap Saturday night specials any night of the week.

Everybody knows that no magic law will silence the fire from guns in the hands of public enemies -- and it should be equally clear to anyone who thinks about it that arming everyone in the country is no way to do this, either. What thoughtful people are trying to do is diminish the number of Americans being killed by guns, by moving to punish criminals and take some reasonable steps to keep the cheapest killer weapon off the open market. That's the very least this country should be willing to try -- and it should be put to roll call votes in the House and Senate.