THE BLOG
12/05/2012 06:59 pm ET Updated Feb 04, 2013

How Did Gun Violence Become Commonplace?

A space alien visiting the United States would surely be perplexed.

Here, anyone can own an assault weapon -- a killing machine -- but
possessing a gram of marijuana -- a shriveled up plant -- carries a prison
sentence. Applicants must pass a background check to work at
McDonalds, but not to buy firearms at a gun show or on Craigslist.
Debates rage on about whether or not fetuses are people, while
children's lives are tragically cut short by bullets every day. Many
states force us to wear seatbelts, but do not require locks on guns.
Suspected terrorists, who would not be allowed on a commercial plane
can even buy lethal weapons from gun dealers without triggering an
alarm.

When nearly 3,000 people died at the hands of Al Qaeda on September
11, 2001, the United States declared war on terror. Democrats and
Republicans came together to punish the perpetrators and enact
legislation to make America less vulnerable. The military initiated
operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the government overhauled our
national security apparatus. Americans adjusted to a new normal at
home and many endured great sacrifice abroad. While some mistakes were
certainly made, when terrorists attacked our country, our leaders
acted swiftly and forcefully.

Yet, on the home front, terror haunts our streets and our homes, our
schools and our places of worship, our office buildings and our movie
theaters. Each year, nearly 100,000 people are caught into the
crossfires of gun violence, and more than 30,000 die. That is tantamount to
ten September 11ths -- every single year.

We hear about suicide bombings and insurgent attacks in faraway lands
and wonder what it must be like to live in places where people always
feel vulnerable and returning home safely at the end of the day cannot
be taken for granted. Yet, when events like the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Christopher Fain of New Haven, Conn., last Saturday become so
commonplace, how can we claim life is much different at home?

Perhaps we compartmentalize, deluding ourselves into believing that
gun violence is only a problem in "bad" neighborhoods. This may be the
reason that the media glosses over shootings, relegating them to back
pages of newspapers or the late night local news. It may also explain
why too many of our leaders ignore it, at worst, or, at best, pay it
lip service. But as atrocity after atrocity shows us -- gun violence is a
pox on our society that leaves us all in jeopardy. Any of us could be
next.

As Congress spends its lame duck session on matters like authorizing
commemorative coins and Washington is absorbed with averting the
fiscal cliff, gun violence -- literally a matter of life and death --
continues to rear its ugly head. There could not be a more pressing
issue than the terror that rages in our streets, exacting a far
greater toll than terrorism while we do almost nothing to avert it.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition led by New York's Mayor
Bloomberg and Boston's Mayor Menino, has drafted a number of proposals
that would substantially improve our safety without infringing on the
Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans to keep and acquire
guns for legitimate purposes. While it is true that laws cannot
completely eliminate the black market and make gun violence disappear,
no one is suggesting that laws will be panaceas. Good policy, however,
will make it harder for guns to get into the hands of the wrong
people.

Our representatives in Washington and in our city halls and state
houses should get to work today to stop the bloodshed, starting by
implementing the mayors' proposals. Otherwise, our streets and public
places will remain battlefields and our leaders, having been
bystanders who failed to act, will be complicit.