CONGRESS IS PREPARING to put the last awful touches on legislation softening this country's gun laws -- and hardening the opposition of law enforcement officials from coast to coast who are infuriated by the handguns-are-fun lobbyists of the National Rifle Association. While the police, sheriffs, state troopers, public safety protectors and widows of officers make one last plea to the Senate for a few reasonable amendments to the decontrol bill, the NRA's Political Action Committee lobbyists can take credit -- investment credit, sort of -- for lining enough congressional pockets over the years to keep a paid army of House members doing their bidding.

From the Amazing-Coincidence Department comes a striking correlation between the NRA/PAC's distribution of a fat $1.1 million in campaign contributions to House members over a five-year period and these same members' votes to weaken federal handgun controls. Data provided by Common Cause looks at two House votes this month: on an amendment supported by the police and others who worry about public safety that would have kept more protections against handgun traffic, and on final passage of the legislation as blessed by the NRA. It happens that 80 percent of those who voted in support of the NRA on the first amendment had received NRA contributions, while 80 percent of those who voted against the NRA had received not a nickel from the NRA.

Meanwhile the police coalition will try to spread its word without money to spread around with it. The law enforcement officers are asking senators to consider three amendments: 1)to maintain the right of states to control the transport of firearms within their borders, without interfering with the ability of individuals to transport across state lines unloaded, inaccessible firearms for sporting purposes; 2)to close a loophole in the House bill that would facilitate unrecorded distribution of weapons by and to terrorists and other criminals; and 3)to retain current law that requires gun dealers to keep records on all firearms sales, thus "preserving law enforcement's ability to trace firearms used in a crime."

Is this too much to ask of the senators? Or is the price of NRA contributions more valuable to them than the price that every law enforcement family -- and victims of handgun crimes everywhere -- must be prepared to pay without these reasonable protections?