HOW MANY of your neighbors own snakes? You may find out that there are more than you think, if the D.C. Council passes a bill sponsored by Ward 6 Council Member Nadine Winter. Mrs. Winter's bill would require, for the first time in this and, so far as we know, any city that signs be posted on the entries to all houses and offices whose occupants own snakes, reading, "Snake In House: Exercise Caution." The general principle underlying this legislation, says Mrs. Winter, who confesses to a horror of snakes herself, is that "the general public of Washington, D.C., has the right to be relatively free from terror, no matter what the source."

With that proposition we have no dispute. And as readers will no doubt recall, Washington's public servants have already displayed an awe-inspiring ability to deal with the most poisonous of snakes. This is the city where, after a 16-year-old was bitten by a Gaboon viper he carried onto a Metrobus, driver Jane White radioed a quick call for help and Metropolitan Police Officer Ray Harper, who is highly experienced at handling dangerous snakes, captured the viper and identified it so that the young man could be treated.

Mrs. Winter's legislation would not have helped much in that case. The Gaboon viper had been abducted from the National Zoo, where its lethal nature was duly noted; and it was carried on the bus in a plastic bag, which the Winter bill would not have required to be marked. Mrs. Winter does, however, cite a case of a mail carrier who was frightened so badly by a snake that he ran out into traffic. And her bill would penalize owners of "wandering snakes" with fines of up to $300 and 90 days in jail.

But there are limits to how far even the council can go to keep us free from terror. We may think of Washington as a concrete city, but our lush vegetation, humid climate and plentiful park land make the District a hospitable environment for all sorts of creatures--to the point that we're plagued now with rabid racoons and 17-year locusts. Mrs. Winter proposes to "control the peregrinations of snakes." Good luck.