Congress renews push to toughen gun-control laws

America has the highest crime rate of any industrialized nation. With President Reagan's Task Force on Violent Crime calling for additional gun control, a group of congressmen is renewing its appeal here for sterner legislation and for Mr. Reagan's support.

The congressional group, led by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, Rep. Peter W. Rodino (D) of New Jersey, and others, this week introduces legislation to reinforce the 1968 federal gun-control law.

In a recent year there were 10,728 handgun murders in the United States, 48 in Japan, and only 8 in Britain. In asking for Reagan's support, control advocates recall that the President last year in a speech to the Building Trades Council referred to the ''violent crime that has surged - making neighborhood streets unsafe and families fearful in their homes.''

Other events are reviving interest in the subject: ABC is running a national series on violent crime; new statistics will be coming shortly from the Justice Department; the well-financed National Rifle Association is actively opposing stricter gun control; and the anniversary of the assassination attempt on Mr. Reagan is coming up.

The gun-control issue also enters politics: A recent survey estimates that the single-interest and well-organized National Rifle Association raised half a million dollars for 202 supporters in Congress in the election last year.

Mr. Reagan's position on handgun control is somewhat unclear. Traditionally, conservatives have opposed federal restraints on firearms. In 1980 President-elect Reagan gave his formula for dealing with violent crime: ''If somebody commits a crime and carries a gun while he's doing it, add 5 to 15 years to the prison sentence.''

Others argue, however, that the ''stiffer sentence'' approach has failed. According to Senator Kennedy, ''Sixty million handguns are now in circulation,'' growing by 2.5 million annually. He declares, ''Our nation is armed to the teeth against itself. Our society is becoming an arsenal of criminal anarchy.''

The issue is whether there is a correlation between gun ownership and high murder rates.

A survey by the Library of Congress, requested by Senator Kennedy, indicates that on the whole the public favors stricter handgun control. As far back as 1922, the American Bar Association recommended a ban on the manufacture and sale of pistols save for governmental and official use.

According to a report made to Attorney General William French Smith by a task force in 1982, ''Every year approximately 10,000 Americans are murdered by criminals using handguns.''

How does the public feel? The Library of Congress report says, ''Over much of the past 20 years, large majorities of the public (67 to 75 percent) have said they favor measures that have to do with the registration of firearms and, especially, handguns. However, a system of firearms registration that involved huge costs or was arbitrarily applied by the police would not appear to have much support.''

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