WHO IS HURTING in our society? Hungry children, homeless, jobless men and women, dispossessed farmers might leap to mind. But if you were on Capitol Hill this week, you would have seen senators sniffling over the plight of some who had entirely escaped your notice as candidates for sympathy and redress: gun owners, would- be gun owners and gun merchants.

And, oh yes, hunters. Think about hunters. Think about the pain of, say, a New York hunter who could find himself in Idaho without a handgun to finish off a wounded bear. He would have to go back to New York to arm himself for this eventuality. Is it to be borne?

The Senate last Tuesday said no. Led by Sen. James A. McClure (R-Idaho), itd to this downtrodden handguns in the United States, which m strike you as enough.

In 1cans were murdered by handguns. Another 10,000 died in suicides and accidents involving handguns.

Eleven survivors of handgun vims, or the victims themselves, went to Capitol Hill last Monday to plead against making guns more easily available. One was Cookie Misher, whose husband was shpano Beach, Fla., on his lunch hour and bought the death weapon with his Visa card.

Another was a former Marine named Ron Bielicki. He was on shore leave in Newport News, Va., when a robber shot him with a handgun a few yards from his ship. He now spends his life in a wheelchair.

Sarah Brady wrote a letter to every senator begging support for an amendment offered by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who was trying to save the modest national curbs on handgun purchase now in effect. Sarah Brady's husband, Jim, stopped handgun bullets aimed by John Hinckley Jr. at President Reagan on March 30, 1981.

The senators, their vision blurred by tears of pity for hunters and gun lovers, paid no mind.

Nor were they moved by the arguments of 15 police chiefs who also turned out to ask for keeping the restrictions on interstate gun sales that were enacted in the 1968 law. The year 1968, a terrible one in our history, was, for that melancholy reason, a good year for gun control. Congress, which always freezes when the wealthy and menacing National Rifle Association comes to its door, dug in after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy and forbade interstate gun purchases.

The Senate ignored the police chiefs, too.

McClure argued that it was not to worry because the gun dealer in Idaho would have to be satisfied by the New Yorker making the purchase that he was qualified to buy a gun under New York's stricter standards. Since there are a thousand pages of regulations relating to widely differing state laws, we must ascribe an exceptional scholarliness on the part of gun dealers.

Or we can assume that they are not concerned about being caught. The arithmetic is compelling in this regard. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms fields exactly 400 inspectors to monitor 200,000 gun merchants.

Right after they crushed the Kennedy amendment, 69-27, the senators moved against Sen. Charles McC. Mathias, (R-Md.), who tried to save the current provision for surprise inspections of gunshops.

"Surprise inspections" were a dreadful hardship on poor, put- upon gun merchants.

The heavy enlistment of the police force in the control cause is the one heartening development in the situation. In 1982, in a California referendum on the strictest gun law ever proposed, they played no part.

Charlie Orasin of Handgun Control Inc. thinks the police were finally turned off by NRA's indiscriminate advocacy of all firearms -- and ammunition. For instance, NRA has called in its firepower against the outlawing of sales of Uzi submachine guns of the type used in the McDonald's massacre of 1984.

Similary, the police have a special interest in the elimination of armor-piercing bullets known as "cop killers." The NRA wants to keep them.

The gun control lobby is hoping the cops will be on the beat when the battle is transferred to the House of Representatives. Chairman Peter Rodino vows that the weakening bill will never get out of the Judiciary Committee. Gun control advocates fear a sneaky parliamentary maneuver that could bring it to the floor without Rodino's permission.

Americans overwhelmingly favor gun control, but they don't pay much attention to it except when a leader is shot. Someone else important, it seems, must die before public outcry forces Congress to stand up to the NRA again and undo this week's shameful triumph. It seems to be the only way.