FORMER ATTORNEY General Griffin Bell is right in calling the gun control recommendations made by the task force he serves on "very modest." They are nonetheless a move in the right direction.

The task force was appointed some months ago by Attorney General William French Smith to recommend to the administration the steps needed to control violent crime. As a candidate, Mr. Reagan opposed gun controls, and since taking office he has supported a National Rifle Association-backed bill that would weaken the already feeble provisions of the 1968 Gun Control Act. Hence the task force's recommendations, modest or not, represent an act of political independence.

The proposals would require individuals to report the theft or loss of a handgun, make would-be handgun buyers wait for records-checks before walking out with their new weapons, and ban the importation of unassembled handgun parts, thereby closing a giant loophole in the 1968 bill. The group is also recommending a mandatory sentence for anyone using a gun in the commission of a federal felony.

None of these proposals is watertight. John W. Hinckley Jr. collected his guns long before he allegedly shot the president. Since he had no prior criminal record, neither the waiting period nor the record check would likely have interfered with his plans. Similarly, the requirement to report a theft or loss will help solve some crimes, but that is after the fact, small solace to the victim--or his mourners.

The task force's proposals echo those made in a bill introduced earlier this year by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Rep. Peter W. Rodino Jr. They will not interfere with law-abiding citizens who believe that they are enhancing their personal safety by keeping a gun around the house. Heartbreaking deaths of young children will still occur. So will fatal endings to family squabbles and fights among "friends" that might otherwise have ended with a good left hook. But these suggestions should help reduce the carnage wrought by the demented and criminal.

The big question now is how the task force's proposals will be received in the White House. We hope the president will notice that this carefully selected group of advisers could not escape the conclusion that stemming violent crime in this country demands effective handgun controls.