It is time to finally close the loopholes in the laws intended to eliminate those military-style rifles known as assault weapons.

In the months after a crazed loner sprayed bullets across a heavily populated Stockton, Calif., playground, federal and state authorities took steps to outlaw the murder weapon, an AK-47.Most people thought that would be the end of it, but they didn't count on arms importers who immediately lopped off the pistol grips and removed the 30-round ammunition magazines of their shipments of Yugoslavian AK-47s. These people had no problem getting federal permission to sell the modified weapons even though the danger they represented was essentially the same.

The clever redesign underscores the troubles with assault weapons laws that spread across the country in the two years after the Stockton schoolyard massacre.

Just as the opponents of the laws predicted, manufacturers and importers have had a field day exploiting the loopholes of the weapons bans. Meanwhile, the particular brand of violence involving assault weapons - drive-by shootings, drug-related killings and mass murders - continues.

Although assault weapons are more expensive and a little harder to find today, those who want them can find them. The gun buyer outside of California has a litany of choices. This year, the first wave of new guns - "sporterized" versions of the German-made HK-91 and the Belgian FN-FAL - hit U.S. stores.

Even in California, where the law specifically banned 53 weapons of domestic and foreign and domestic design, as well as slightly altered weapons, the Colt Sporter - a virtual replica of the banned Colt AR-15, the civilian version of the M-16 - is freely offered for sale, and the state attorney general's office seems powerless to do anything about it.

Even offering a gun that uses six screws instead of seven screws to hold on a particular attachment may make it technically a different gun.

These loopholes not only violate the spirit of the laws against assault weapons, they make them a mere irritant to gun dealers. No one is kidding anyone else that such weapons promote the sporting life in America. These are not "sporting" guns under any but the most twisted definition.

New federal laws should be written in clear, unmistakable language to effectively eliminate these weapons.