HARD ON the heels of another hideous shooting rampage -- the third in less than three months in Atlanta alone -- are the apologists for America's outlandish, inexhaustible supply of concealable weapons. Again they are trotting out their old guns-don't-kill-people, people-kill-people line, dismissing connections between this latest massacre and efforts to enact controls on the free flow of firearms in this country. On Capitol Hill, Republican leaders only now have gotten around to naming conferees to work on their sorry proposals that perhaps may be enacted sometime this fall. Might the Atlanta killings spur a stronger response?

"I don't think it has anything to do with it," said National Rifle Association spokesman Bill Powers. After all, various Republican legislators were saying Friday, a deranged gun-wielding adult does not strike the same emotional chords as the school shootings did earlier this year. Besides, killers will find ways to arm. Republican Sen. Rick Santorum noted that "feel-good legislation" would not necessarily stop someone such as Mark Barton. While he was loose, a lot of people in Atlanta who own guns "felt good that they could protect themselves against him."

What a fine feeling that had to be. But people everywhere just might feel a whole lot better if handguns, assault-style weapons and other concealable firearms were banned. Sen. Santorum himself observed that "there are 250 million guns in America and several thousand crazy people and that's always a dangerous combination." Even with the best background-check system available, deranged people can purchase handguns. Not easily so, however, if handguns weren't available for general use.

As was the apparent case in Atlanta, murderers can find any number of other ways to take lives. Yet today's rapid-fire carnage in schools, offices and other gathering places is possible because guns do the job so efficiently. They also embolden kids as well as adults who feel the need to strike out at society.

The causes of violent behavior are not always easily determined. But the tools used to spread the most instant terror are guns. Until presidents and congressional leaders stand up to the global firearms pushers and halt the gunfire, violence will continue to be a gross national shame.