THIRTY-NINE hostages were released from Beirut. Seven more Americans remain captive. One American is dead. Terrorist attacks continue around the world. Every day, new victims of world violence make the headlines of our papers and lead the evening newscasts.

My husband, Richard, was one of the 53 American hostages held in Iran for 444 days, so our family, more than most American families, can feel the anguish of today's American hostages. But it might surprise you to know that I identify most with the family of Robert Stethem, whose son did not return from Beirut. Because I, too, lost a son in a senseless act of violence.

My son's murder did not make national headlines. Nor do the deaths of some 20,000 other handgun victims each year. But Rick Morefield's story is just as chilling -- and just as worthy of national attention.

My 19-year-old son was working part-time in a Roy Rogers restaurant in Annandale. One Friday night he didn't come home from work. That was unlike Rick. He was a happy and responsible young man. He loved his family, told us wherever he was going and never gave us reason to worry.

The next morning, I went to the restaurant and was told by police that my eldest son, my firstborn, had been murdered, shot in the back of the head, executed.

The robber had hidden in the restroom past closing time. He was given all the available cash without resistance but then he herded all four remaining employes (and one of their relatives) into the back freezer and made them all lie face down on the floor. They offered no resistance. But he emptied his handgun into the back of their heads. In case that wasn't enough, he reloaded and did it again. And then a third time.

You may feel anger or pain or grief or horror as you read this. I feel them all as I write it. But if you are to share in my ongoing nightmare, you must feel more.

Close your eyes and put yourself in that freezer with blood and brains and human tissue everywhere and your loving, innocent, caring child lying slaughtered on the floor. Feel the terror he must have felt. And try to understand a death so senseless that it defies understanding.

As uncomfortable as the thoughts may make you, remember how lucky you are. You can put this newspaper down and put Rick Morefield out of your mind.

My husband says of all the drama, excitement, and horror of his 444 days as a hostage held at gunpoint by Iranian terrorists, one moment will be burned forever into his mind long after all else fades. Richard must forever live with the moment that his captors in Tehran, knowing nothing of our son's murder in Virginia, took him to a basement room, blindfolded him, tied his hands, put the cold steel of a handgun against the back of his head and pulled the trigger. The gun was not loaded. It was a scare tactic.

While he was being led to the basement, Richard thought of Rick. Feeling the gun, Richard prayed for Rick, and for us, believing that we would once again suffer the pain of mourning a senseless violent death.

Our hostage story, the story of the Morefields, received a lot of attention. But it is no more tragic than the 50 handgun deaths that occur every day in this country. Fifty Americans killed with handguns every single day of every month of every year.

It's as if the 39 American hostages in Beirut, rather than being freed, were executed en masse. It's as if the same thing happened tomorrow and the next day and the next day and the next. Every day for the rest of our lives.

The irony is striking. Richard Morefield Sr. survived 444 days as a hostage of terrorists loyal to a madman in a land of incredible violence. Richard Morefield Jr. did not survive the handgun of a single robber in a family restaurant here at home in this land of peace and liberty.

Despite public pleadings, Congress has refused to do anything about America's handgun terrorism. While we focus our national attention on world terrorism, we ignore our domestic plight: 20,000 Americans killed every year with handguns.

In the horror surrounding the Beirut hostage crisis, our politicians are missing a valuable lesson. We must stop violence wherever it occurs. And yet last Tuesday, the United States Senate voted, not to strengthen America's handgun laws, but to weaken what few federal laws exist to keep handguns out of the wrong hands.

The National Rifle Association- backed McClure Gun Decontrol Bill (S. 49) seeks to repeal much of the 1968 Gun Control Act, passed after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Representatives of every major law- enforcement organization in America came to Washington to ask the Senate to stand up for the police -- to vote to strengthen our gun laws. Instead, the Senate rejected the pleas of the law-enforcement community to satisfy the demands of the NRA's Washington lobbyists.

When the U.S. Senate began voting on this bill, I prayed they would remember Rick Morefield and the hundreds of thousands of other Americans who have been killed with handguns. Instead, the Senate mocked my family's tragedy, ignored our police and knuckled under to NRA pressure.

The battle over this bill is far from over. House action has yet to begin. And our efforts as a nation may yet convince our lawmakers that we must work to keep handguns out of the wrong hands. The hostages in Iran and Beirut reminded us of how hard our nation will work to save precious American lives overseas. It is now left to the U.S. House of Representatives to show that the lives of our citizens here at home are just as important.