America's law-and-order establishment -- the men and women who risk their lives daily to protect the public -- came to town the other day to tell Congress why S.49 is a terrible bill. S.49 would weaken existing federal handgun laws, making it easier for criminals and disturbed people to purchase handguns in a hurry. Ten national police organizations representing 280,000 law-enforcement officers and officials are urging members of the House to reject S.49 "in the name of sanity." They're doubly upset because of what they feel has been an effort by the handgun-dealing lobby to misrepresent the position of law-enforcement groups.

This isn't the old debate about the right to own firearms. It isn't even about rifles. Most law-enforcement organizations believe that law-abiding citizens have a right to own handguns. They also believe there must be legislative safeguards to keep handguns from falling easily into criminal hands. They are urging House members not to sign a discharge petition that would bring the bill to the House floor without public hearings.

S.49 would 1) allow for the interstate sale of handguns, making it easier for criminals to bypass state and local handgun laws; 2) weaken current federal laws that impose a 5-to-10-year mandatory prison term for use or possession of a firearm in the commission of a violent felony; 3) undermine the tracing of weapons used in violent crimes, and 4) prevent identification and prosecution of "unscrupulous gun dealers" by requiring advance notice of every annual regulatory inspection.

Here are the organizations in the coalition against S.49: The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association; the Fraternal Order of Police; the International Association of Chiefs of Police; the International Brotherhood of Police Officers; the National Association of Police Organizations; the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives; the National Sheriffs' Association; the National Troopers' Coalition; the Police Executive Research Forum, and the Police Foundation.

Maybe this once, as one police officer wrote, Congress "will listen to the law-enforcment community and put the interests of a safer society ahead of the goals of the National Rifle Association."