WITH AN IMPRESSIVE, bipartisan 35-to-0 vote, the House Judiciary Committee has come up with a solid legislative answer to "Killer Bill" S.49, the terrible Senate measure that leading law enforcement groups have so vigorously -- and understandably -- opposed. Unlike the Senate bill, which would gut key federal protections against quickie handgun sales and traffic in this country, the House measure contains provisions that these law enforcement groups believe are critical to their battles against crime. In addition, the House bill, H.R.4332, is aimed at accommodating concerns of sportsmen and other law-abiding rifle and gun owners, as well as any other Americans concerned about sales of concealable handguns to criminals and dangerous "impulse" purchasers.

The hard-line lobbyists of the National Rifle (and Handguns More Than Ever) Association oppose this sensible measure and aren't budging an inch off their insistence that S.49 is gospel. Yet Attorney General Edwin Meese indicated last Wedenesday that he could be comfortable with the House bill -- and that S.49 could be amended as far as he was concerned. What Mr. Meese knows is that police, sheriffs and others whose lives are threatened by handguns are upset not only about the weakening of controls in the Senate bill but also about the way their concerns have been dismissed by the NRA pushers of S.49. The House bill would require that police be notified about all handgun -- that's handgun, not rifle -- sales so they can check the background of the purchaser. It would allow interstate sales of rifles if the sales were made in person and complied with the laws of both states. Unlike S.49, the House bill would not ease restrictions on interstate handgun sales. The House bill does incorporate some provisions of the Senate's measure, including allowing people to cross state lines with an unloaded, inaccessible rifle; easing record-keeping for dealers; allowing dealers to make sales at gun shows; and requiring proof of intentional violations for felony convictions of dealers.

Still other provisions in H.R.4332 include making it a crime to sell knowingly a gun to a criminal, drug addict, mental incompetent or illegal alien; and importing parts for Saturday Night Specials -- the favorite cheap weapon of nobody except criminals. There's also a mandatory 10-year prison term for using a machine gun in a violent crime or drug-trafficking offense.

H.R.4332 is a thoughtfully drafted measure that Congress can be proud to enact, and that law-abiding Americans -- those who own firearms as well as those who do not -- can support in the name of public safety. The full House can begin this process by sticking with their committee's bill.