America's law enforcement came to Capitol Hill in uniform and unity yesterday to let it be known that they want their latest enemy in the war against crime killed on the spot. The menace is S.49 -- a Senate-passed bill that would gut what minimal federal controls do exist over quickie handgun sales and traffic in this country. The message -- from every major law enforcement organization in the United States -- was directed squarely at members of the House: "S.49, the McClure-Volkmer Gun Decontrol Bill . . . will make it harder to fight crime." Will the House listen to those who risk their lives for public safety?

Not if the old familiar gun lobbyists get their way. As always, the big pusher of dangerous gun traffic is the National Rifle Association, which -- contrary to what its name might lead members to believe -- takes money from people with legitimate sporting interests in firearms but is preoccupied by the defense of Saturday Night Specials and other concealable weapons used by criminals to threaten, maim and kill.

The NRA, along with the Gun Owners of America, wants the McClure-Volkmer bill enacted as is, without hearings, just the way it was railroaded through the Senate. That's part of what is upsetting law enforcement officials. At a gathering yesterday under the auspices of Handgun Control, Inc., Richard Boyd, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, put it bluntly: "I'm here today to tell the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America to back off." He was joined by representatives of the Police Foundation, the Police Executive Forum, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Troopers Coalition and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

Also circulating are petitions signed by some 850 law enforcement authorities urging House members not to support an effort to discharge the Senate bill from House committee consideration -- a maneuver that would bring the Senate version directly to the floor without hearings that could show what a terrible bill it is. S.49 would undercut state handgun laws requiring registration, licenses to carry, waiting periods and criminal background checks -- and this is more than enough to upset law enforcement authorities.

What opponents of S.49 seek to preserve is public safety, something in the interest of sportsmen, collectors and anybody else who understands the difference between legitimate purchases of firearms -- for recreation, law enforcement and private security -- and quickie sales of "snubbies" and other concealable handguns to criminals and "impulse" purchases. If House members can understand this, too, S.49 should be a dead duck.