WHILE THE NEW Congress is in town setting up shop, we offer a few items for the files that every member should keep on the great American weapon -- the handgun -- and how it affects, or extinguishes, the lives of people back home. Unfortunately, space considerations don't allow anything close to a district-by-district roster of the atrocities involving handguns that have occurred during the latest congressional break; perhaps constituents around the country will assist their elected officials in keeping tabs on hometown killings and other local handgun news.

Who knows -- if voters get mad enough about the refusal of Congress to crack down on America's handgun traffic, maybe they will start noticing exactly which lawmakers do what about gun control legislation; and during the session, we'll try to help out by naming names from time to time. In the meantime, a casual flip through the latest reports on how America puts the handgun to work turns up a variety of grim examples:

Most prominent in the latest roundup, of course, is Sunday's tragic story out of Richmond, in which the senior executive assistant to the governor is reported to have killed himself after shooting his fiance three times with a .38-caliber pistol. Yes, the National Rifle Association and other groups that front for the pistol traffickers would want you know that in this case the person doing the shooting had a permit to carry a concealed weapon. That's right -- and it just goes to show that a registered concealed gun can be just as deadly as an illegal gun. But what if there weren't any handguns of any kind on the open market?

The stock answer from the pistol pack is that people would be stripped of protection against all sorts of outlaws. This assumes, naturally, that people can keep a loaded pistol at-the-ready instead of disassembled and locked up. That's when you get stories like the one on our wires yesterday, about a woman in Los Angeles who kept a handgun under her pillow in case of burglars; her 3-year-old son found it and now he is dead.

Also found dead over the weekend in Delmar, Iowa, were a mother and her five young children; about 450 miles away, in Yale, S.D., the body of the woman's husband was found, and police termed his death an apparent suicide. Then there's the self-defense story of a man in Oak Lawn, Ill., who reportedly boasted that he and 15 friends had set up their own "army"; police seized 19 guns of unspecified lengths at his home.

But enough for now. Sooner or later, another headline-maker will be assassinated and members of Congress will wring their hands and do little else about banning handguns. If there is any fresh hope at all this year, it is in a report that Sen. Strom Thurmond, the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is taking a serious look at ways to curb pistol traffic. His support for such a bill could be just the thing to turn the tide.