12/17/2012 02:09 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2013

After Newtown, The Fight of Our Lives

Newtown is an awakening that Americans are in the fight of our lives against gun violence. Contrary to the NRA whose policy director claimed November 15, 2012 that "Gun Owners Are in the Fight of Our Lives," it is Americans fighting for our children's safety who are in the fight of our lives -- and in Newtown we lost. How crass these words from Chris Cox appear to families with already-wrapped holiday gifts for 20 murdered children: "In Bloomberg's world, a child wouldn't be able to tear the wrapping paper off his first .22 rifle on Christmas morning unless Santa Claus had first cleared it with Obama's bureaucrats."

"Obama's bureaucrats" may well have saved lives in Newtown and across America if either guns and ammo safety laws or mental health protocols were stronger.

As President Obama stated so clearly at the Newtown vigil, we cannot honestly say that we have done all we could to protect our children. That must change.

It is time for Washington to take up the fight of our lives. Congress must act this week to do no harm and next month to do some good.

This week, Congress can act to do no harm with two steps: 1) reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and its tough penalties for using guns against intimate partners and its resources for inputting restraining orders into the national crime database so batterers can't buy guns; and 2) pass a fiscal cliff deal that funds the Department of Justice firearms registry and the mental health services within the Affordable Care Act, the various department budgets and community health centers vital to assisting troubled Americans. Forget the 2012 campaign rhetoric of ending Obamacare -- this is the last time to cut already minimalist mental health services.

Next month, Congress must return in January to do some good. Hold hearings on Senator Dianne Feinstein's Assault Weapons Ban and establish a comprehensive 9/11-style commission to integrate ideas from law enforcement, educators, mental health professionals, gun owners, and victims' families focusing on balancing law enforcement and civil liberties.

On the law enforcement front, taking weapons of war off our streets and enhancing gun screenings are long overdue. If I fly I must wade through security, provide ID, take off my shoes, put my liquids in 3 ounce containers, and submit to a TSA screening -- yet I can waltz into any gun show and buy an assault weapon with zero screening. That is unfair and unbalanced -- and must be rectified.

On the civil liberties front, I should be able to buy guns reasonably regulated by the government and to mental health counseling without stigma. Our laws must strike a better balance between reporting threats and waiting until a troubled person commits a crime for a "paper trail" to begin. After domestic violence murders, mass shootings, and suicides there is always someone saying "I knew that guy would go off" -- but precious few of them said what they "knew" to a person of authority with the power of prevention.

These problems are inter-related but not intractable. We may not get to biometric cards or better background checks until we pass immigration reform. We may not get to bipartisan comprehensive gun safety laws until we send an American Safety Commission to public hearings across the country in communities affected by mass killings in schools, theaters, and houses of worship. We may not implement any changes unless citizens are wiling to counter the NRA's Citizens United money with united citizens for gun safety. And we must try all of these things -- and mitigate the damage wherever we can.

We do know that Americans have evolved from the shopworn "God, guns and gays" campaigns and our legislators need to catch up before even more lives are lost to preventable gun violence. There will always be a next time, but there can be fewer and less deadly next times if Americans summon the courage to join the fight of our lives -- the fight to save our children from gun violence.