As expected, the Bush administration's anti-crime package ignores proposals for a national waiting period for purchase of a handgun. Given a chance, politicians of both parties tend to fudge the issue, knowing that gun enthusiasts resist even the most sensible restraints on firearms.

Never mind that every major law enforcement agency in the country supports the "Brady Bill," which requires a seven-day waiting period for a handgun.The bill is named for former presidential press secretary Jim Brady, who was disabled by head wounds in the attempted assassination of President Reagan 10 years ago this month.

About half the states already have a waiting period, ranging from two days to 15 days, but this hodge-podge of restaints, and no restraints, makes a mockery of good police practice.

Only three states - Virginia, Delaware and Florida - have rapid check systems. The rest need time to find out whether a handgun purchaser is a dangerous criminal, a mental incompetent or a drug abuser.

States with waiting periods prevent thousands of high-risk customers from buying handguns each year, yet the gun groups oppose such precautions as an infringement on their constitutional rights.

Maryland currently is trying to ban the sale and possession of Rambo-style semiautomatic assault weapons - weapons better suited to war than hunting trips.

"It's the nose under the tent," complains a lawmaker who opposes the bill. "Pretty soon they are going to say, `Ain't nobody going to have any guns except the government.' "

If such logic prevails, even the moderate Brady Bill will be rejected as a sinister effort to disarm the American people. We think Congress can distinguish between confiscating guns and preventing felons from procuring them. It should mandate a waiting period, with or without administration support.