Congress must have a low opinion of the public's intelligence, considering the way this nation's lawmakers are preparing to insult it this week.

But then congressional contempt for the public is nothing compared to the low opinion the National Rifle Association must have of Congress, considering the intellectual bilge that the NRA is asking the lawmakers to swallow.If such assessments sound exaggerated, just look at the silly scenario scheduled in Washington on Wednesday.

That's when the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the controversial Brady gun control bill, which would require handgun buyers to wait seven days before acquiring the weapon they purchased. The idea is to give lawmen time to conduct background checks on buyers in the hope of keeping felons, drug addicts, minors, and the mentally ill from getting handguns.

This approach upsets the NRA so much that the organization apparently either hasn't noticed or doesn't care that it is speaking out of both sides of its mouth. In one breath, the NRA insists that the Brady bill won't do because there is no national list of felons or mental patients and no comprehensive network for making background checks. Yet in the next breath the NRA backs an alternative bill that would require background checks of prospective gun buyers not just in seven days but immediately. It promises to set up in six months a national hotline that would take many years to create. Unlike the Brady bill, it would set up a cumbersome federal apparatus rather than relying on local lawmen. Incredible.

Even more incredible are Congress' reported reaction to this nonsense and the legislative contortions the lawmakers are said to be preparing.

Specifically, Knight-Ridder News Service reports that the NRA-backed bill has the best chance of being approved by the House of Representatives. But if that measure passes on Wednesday, House leaders are said to be ready to go along with an effort to send the bill back to committee with instructions to bring it up for a second time - with an amendment providing for a seven-day waiting period.

This approach would enable House members to vote "yes" on both sides of the fight over gun control. How cynical can Congress get?

Instead, Congress should pass the Brady bill without indulging in such shallow stabs at deception. Few, if any, law-abiding persons would be unduly inconvenienced by the waiting period. Target shooting, collecting guns and protecting one's home are legitimate reasons to own handguns, as the Constitution recognizes, but none of them requires immediate purchase.

Though the Brady bill represents progress, it should be passed only with a clear understanding of its shortcomings. A waiting period is no cure-all. Many more years of soul-searching will be needed if America is to deal meaningfully with its gun problems without trampling on the rights of legitimate gun owners.