A proposed ban on assault weapons sales took a small step forward in the Senate as gun-control forces put off difficult decisions that already have divided lawmakers.

The legislation "will help prevent our law enforcement officers from being gunned down by drug dealers," Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, declared as a Senate Judiciary subcommittee cleared both his measure and a rival version 5-1.The panel's action, which did not include a recommendation of approval, places the issue before the full Senate Judiciary Committee, which is expected to take up the measures next month.

Metzenbaum's bill, which has been modified somewhat over the last week, would ban sales of new assault weapons but not transfers of ones that already are owned by the public. It would require owners selling their guns to keep a record to make it easier to trace firearms found at crime scenes.

The measure also would require a 14-day waiting period before transfers. It specifies a list of 26 assault guns ranging from the AKS, a semiautomatic cousin of the Soviet infantryman's AK47, to sinister-looking Street Sweeper and Striker 12 round-drummed shotguns.