Posted on Thu, Oct. 10, 2002 WASHINGTON SNIPER HAS A FRIEND IN NRA HOW THE ORGANIZATION HAS UNWITTINGLY HELPED A FIEND FORGET HANNIBAL LECTER, the embodiment of evil in its purest form is roaming the Washington, D.C., area right now, killing and wounding adults and children with cold dispatch. We don't know his name, but we do know this: The mystery sniper who has all of Washington hiding under its covers has an identifiable partner in crime who should be held nearly as responsible for these reprehensible acts as the shooter - the National Rifle Association. Because of the NRA, police are having a harder time catching this crazy than they should. Other than a chilling tarot card depicting death and bearing this handwritten message "Dear Policeman: I am God," investigators have found only one other kind of clue to track this monster down: bullet fragments. Ballistics have long allowed police to link a bullet to a particular gun. So if they ever find this killer and his weapon, they can clearly connect rifle and crime. But what if you could reverse the process and link a gun to a particular bullet? The technology now exists for every gun's ballistic "fingerprint" to be kept on file. In this way, police could instantly know which specific gun was used in the commission of a crime and track down the owner. But who has opposed this sensible idea? The NRA. The organization has bullied Congress into refusing to set up a national registry of guns. A federal program is needed because a piecemeal effort won't be enough. Maryland, where many of these shootings have been committed, requires gun manufacturers to submit ballistic fingerprints of guns sold in the state. But that information is useless if the weapon was purchased in another state, or before the requirement went into effect. Experts believe the weapon being used is either an assault rifle or a hunting rifle. A hunting rifle, in particular, will be difficult to trace because the NRA has been very effective in keeping any information about hunting rifles away from law enforcement officials. We're all for privacy, but it's reckless to put privacy of gun ownership above human lives. If the government has a compelling reason to know what car you drive, what home you live in and how much you earn, shouldn't it also know what kind of gun you own? Nothing will bring back the six lives - or possibly a seventh victim gunned down last night - that have been lost, or spare the pain and terror a 13-year-old felt when he was cut down by a .223 caliber bullet. But maybe this horror in the nation's capital will finally force Congress to ignore the dangerous rhetoric of the NRA.