12/27/2012 12:21 pm ET Updated Feb 26, 2013

The Cancer of Gun Violence Requires the Policy Equivalent of Chemotherapy

When people are diagnosed with cancer, doctors do not simply advise them to take ibuprofen to alleviate the pain. Rather, doctors typically act systemically, using chemotherapy and radiation in attempt to obliterate the cancer. Of course, these treatments are often difficult and there is always the chance that the cancer may come out of remission. But ultimately, they attack the root of the problem and offer the best hope for recovery. Gun violence is a cancer plaguing our American body politic. In the past two weeks alone, the over 200 victims have ranged from six- and seven-year-old kids and their teachers in suburban Connecticut to firefighters in upstate New York. We must treat this menace with potent legislation that amounts to the policy equivalent of chemotherapy to address the underlying causes of gun violence.

In his remarks to the press after the Sandy Hook shooting, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre elaborated on the "meaningful contributions" to the national conversation on gun violence the organization had promised in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. His solution, more guns in more hands in more places, was anything but meaningful. Like the doctor who opts to treat cancer with painkillers, this proposal relies on treating violence as it erupts and fails to get at the root of the problem making it untenable and, frankly, dangerous.

Mr. LaPierre asked, "Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away ... or a minute away?" But an assailant carrying a semi-automatic weapon or a gun with a high capacity magazine could kill hundreds before an armed guard could respond -- even if a guard were stationed inside of a school. As a case in point, during the massacre at Columbine High School, an armed sheriff's deputy was stationed on the premises. Amid the chaos, he "didn't know who the 'bad guy' was" and could not halt the perpetrators.

Even if we were to place armed guards in every classroom, as we know all too well, gun violence and mass shootings are not confined to schools. Would Mr. LaPierre buy the logical extension of his argument that the only way we can be safe is if armed guards and "good guys" are on every single street corner and every nook and cranny across the 50 states? This is a frightening proposition.

True meaningful action to reduce violence in our society requires a holistic approach. Yes, improving the security of our public places and the effectiveness of law enforcement is an important component. As is enacting policies at the federal, state and local levels to bolster mental health services, improve education and opportunities for young people, and reduce the exposure of our youth to violent images and messages. Addressing these issues is crucial, as many of the perpetrators of gun violence are mentally ill and many others are trapped in a destructive culture of nihilism and hopelessness. Our young people have grown up bombarded by blood and gore in movies and video games. But we would be remiss if our plan to address gun violence neglected to touch on the very weapons that are used to carry out these massacres plaguing our streets and our schools, our shopping centers and our theaters, our temples and our office buildings.

On Sunday morning, Mr. LaPierre stated on Meet the Press, "You know, look. I know there's a media machine in this country that wants to blame guns every time something happens. I know there's an anti-Second Amendment industry in this country." Is it unreasonable to acknowledge that guns play a role in gun violence and that this is not some kind of fabrication by a vast conspiracy? The canard that "guns don't kill people, people do" is flawed because a rock, a kitchen knife or a jump rope or, nearly any object, can be used to kill someone. What sets apart guns, especially automatic and semi-automatic weapons, as well as guns with high capacity magazines, is their lethal potential. Attackers can use them to mow down untold numbers of people in seconds.

No one is trying to confiscate everyone's guns. Not President Obama, not Senator Feinstein, not Mayor Bloomberg, not the Brady Coalition -- not anyone. While this is how LaPierre and his contemporaries have framed the calls for sensible gun laws in our country, this mischaracterization is deceptive and presents a false dichotomy: people who want all guns confiscated and banned, leaving hunters to resort to spears on one side, and those who want to protect the Second Amendment on the other. I think most reasonable people would agree that policies such as banning assault weapons -- that have no legitimate use outside of the military -- and ending loopholes that allow people to purchase guns at gun shows and on the internet will help keep us safe without threatening the Second Amendment.

While LaPierre and others say that the majority of Americans support the Second Amendment, this is not incompatible with the gun control supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans. A recent CNN/ORC International poll conducted after the Sandy Hook shooting shows that 85 percent of Americans favor some kind of gun control laws. More specifically, nearly everyone polled favors background checks, over 90 percent support barring high-risk populations (e.g. convicted felons) from owning firearms and 62 percent support banning semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines. Even the late President Ronald Reagan, himself a member of the NRA and a victim of gun violence said, "I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home."

No one policy or set of policies can end all gun violence. However, laws have the power to reduce gun violence and mitigate the carnage. The more comprehensive the legislation we pass, the more likely it is that we will be successful, and it is clear that gun control must play a role. Let us support our leaders seeking to make our society safer through multidimensional policies aimed at the root causes of gun violence. By enacting these measures, the policy equivalent of chemotherapy, we can begin to eradicate the cancer of gun violence ravaging our body politic.