Something truly appalling happened in Washington this week -- and yes, I said Washington, not Boston, where three people were killed in a bomb attack on the Boston marathon, and not Texas, where several people died when a fertiliser plant exploded.
In Washington, last night, the US Senate failed to approve a measure that would have gone a little way -- a very little way, in all honesty -- to tightening up controls on gun sales.
There can't be many places on earth where legislators think it's perfectly OK for absolutely anyone to buy a gun online, or at a gun show, without having to pass some kind of check on their background.
Sometimes, I read something and think to myself: "There is no way I could have said that any better." So here is part of such an article, written in the New York Times by the former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in January 2011.
"Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.
"I watch TV and read the papers like everyone else. We know what we’re going to hear: vague platitudes like “tough vote” and “complicated issue.” I was elected six times to represent southern Arizona, in the State Legislature and then in Congress. I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.
"I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.
"People have told me that I’m courageous, but I have seen greater courage. Gabe Zimmerman, my friend and staff member in whose honor we dedicated a room in the United States Capitol this week, saw me shot in the head and saw the shooter turn his gunfire on others. Gabe ran toward me as I lay bleeding. Toward gunfire. And then the gunman shot him, and then Gabe died. His body lay on the pavement in front of the Safeway for hours.
"I have thought a lot about why Gabe ran toward me when he could have run away. Service was part of his life, but it was also his job. The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job.
"They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing."
The Financial Times reported today: "Although polls show that about 90 per cent of voters back mandatory checks for all gun sales, the bill’s provisions were more modest than the universal background checks that Mr Obama promoted after the Newtown shootings, when 26 people, including 20 children, were killed."
In which case, why weren't more senators prepared to back the proposals? I can think of only one explanation, and it's the one suggested by Gabrielle Giffords: that they are more frightened of incurring the wrath of the pro-gun lobby than they are of more children being gunned down in yet another murderous rampage.
No wonder President Obama called it "a pretty shameful day for Washington."