Joseph Albright and Cheryl Arvidson of Cox Newspapers have won the 38th annual Raymond Clapper Memorial Award for their series, "The Snub-Nosed Killers: Handguns in America."

James Coates and Bill Neikirk of the Chicago Tribune won the second-place award for their series, "Rearming America."

Receiving honorable mention were George C. Wilson of The Washington Post and Meryl Gordon of Gannett News Service. Wilson was honored for his coverage of the Pentagon, and Gordon for a series on the Federal Reserve.

The awards were presented yesterday at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. The winners were selected from 23 entries.

Raymond Clapper, Washington correspondent and columnist for Scripps-Howard, was killed in a plane crash while covering the invasion of the Marshall Islands near the end of World War II.

Also honored last night were Dean Reynolds of United Press International, who received the Merriman Smith Memorial Award for his coverage of the assassination attempt on President Reagan last year.

Gilbert Lewthwaite of the Baltimore Sun won second place, also for coverage of the assassination attempt. Merriman Smith was a long-time UPI White House correspondent.

Helen Thomas of UPI received the Aldo Beckman Memorial Award for overall White House coverage. Beckman was a White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Tribune.

Patrick Oster and Bruce Ingersoll of the Chicago Sun-Times won the Worth Bingham Prize for a series titled "Defense Dilemmas." The late Robert Worth Bingham was a member of the Louisville Courier-Journal Washington bureau and its executive staff in Louisville.