IN THE MANY WORDS of wire copy that constantly click into our newsroom was an item yesterday by Associated Press writer Harry F. Rosenthal that marked a sad day in history with a sad fact about the aftermath:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Since Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was mortally wounded by a bullet shot from ambush, more than 440,000 Americans have been killed by gunfire in their own country."

Just a minute, we can hear them saying over at the National Rifle-Make-It-Handgun Association, guns didn't cause that gunfire, people did. That's right, of course, but to cause gunfire, it helps to have a gun -- and an awful lot of people do who shouldn't.

Besides, those 440,000 were just the unlucky ones, a minority when it comes to people who have wound up on the wrong side of firearms: data compiled by the FBI show that more than 1.7 million more Americans were wounded by gunfire and approximately 2.7 million more were robbed at gunpoint.

All the more reason for self-defense, right? Why not arm everybody who feels threatened anywhere? If the streets are dangerous, then let all who walk them pack a little something in the jacket or purse to respond when the time comes. Once everybody's loaded, surely everyone will feel safer.

That's music to the ears of the firearms industry -- the manufacturers whose livelihood depends on guns, and who would remind us that out in California, people just voted down a gun-control measure. They didn't want to ban guns--but did they vote to put them in the hands of anybody?

If people kill people, maybe "gun control" is a misleading term. Instead of banning guns or banning people, at the very least "people control" might include a policy that would treat firearms as cautiously as motor vehicles are treated. That would be enough to satisfy many who believe that 440,000 deaths, 1.7 million wounded and 2.7 million robbed at gunpoint is more than a sane republic should have to abide.

That is all that David J. Steinberg, executive director and acting chairman of the National Council for a Responsible Firearms Policy, was suggesting in the AP story yesterday. "I have great respect for skilled, cautious, responsible, public-spirited gun owners," he said. "We advocate that, through gun registration or some alternate means, every gun owner be legally accountable and strictly accountable for safekeeping, legal use and legal transfer of every gun."

Is that too much to ask? Or is it possible that sensible people who have fought so long and bitterly over the gun issue might find some modest way to strengthen the country's approach to firearms before next Nov. 22?