YESTERDAY'S Outlook section contained an analysis by Cox Newspaper reporter Joseph Albright that suggests a way out of the sterile--and murderous--deadlock over whether to control handguns. Mr. Albright and his colleagues looked behind the familiar slogans in the hope that the facts would provide clues to a more useful approach. They found one. After analyzing records of 14,000 guns used in street crimes, they discovered that the one characteristic most of these guns had in common was not the low quality, low price or foreign origin that characterizes the so-called Saturday Night Special. Rather, 11 of the 15 handguns most often used in the commission of murder, armed robbery and other street crimes had snub-nosed barrels of 2.5 inches or less. That is, the most attractive feature from the criminal's viewpoint was--not surprisingly--concealability. The short-barreled gun also turns out to be the weapon of choice for assassins. According to Mr. Albright, 10 of the 15 assassination attempts on major American political figures since 1835 involved the most concealable type of handgun available at the time. Included in the list are the attacks on Presidents Lincoln, Roosevelt, Ford and Reagan.
"Snubbies," as they are called, are frequently expensive and of relatively high quality. But regardless of the price, their short barrels mean inaccuracy at anything beyond point-blank range. They should therefore be of little interest to legitimate hunters, hobbyists and target-shooters.
The favorite argument of those who oppose handgun control is that banning or registering guns would disarm only law-abiding citizens. The argument has been raging for years with no agreement in sight. Mr. Albright's findings suggest that there is a way selectively to disarm criminals--by banning the "snubbies," their weapon of choice. Those who feel safer with a gun in the bedside table or next to the cash register can continue to keep one there. There is no need that it be very small. But the gun that slips into pocket or purse as easily as a wallet could--and should--be outlawed.