A bill making Maryland the first state to ban the sale of cheap handguns, or Saturday Night Specials, was signed into law Monday by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Presidential press secretary James Brady and his wife, Sarah, and about 200 uniformed police officers from five states witnessed the signing ceremony."This is indeed a great step for public safety," Mrs. Brady said. "I can't think of a sweeter, more wonderful day."

Mrs. Brady became active in gun-control efforts after her husband was seriously wounded in John Hinckley Jr.'s assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981.

Brady, confined to his wheelchair since the shooting, flashed the crowd a thumbs-up gesture during a long ovation that greeted his introduction.

Schaefer called the bill a major breakthrough in the campaign "to stop the senseless killing on our streets."

"This is the first time a Legislature has stood up and said, `These guns are wrong,"' the governor said.

Schaefer aides say the ceremony was not intended as a show of force to pro-gun groups that are collecting signatures on petitions to place the bill on the ballot for a public vote in November.

Rather, the aides said, the ceremony was a way of sharing the moment with the many people who helped get the bill passed despite fierce opposition from the National Rifle Association and Maryland gun groups.

State officials say the bill is unique because it creates a board to determine which handguns can be sold in Maryland beginning in 1990. It will not be illegal to possess guns that have not been approved by the review board, but it will be against the law for anyone to sell weapons not on the approved list.