01/22/2013 03:17 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2013

9/11 vs. Newtown

I recently read a New York Times op ed by Professor Adam Lankford about his upcoming book The Myth of Martyrdom. In it, he compares terrorist suicide bombers with U.S. mass murderers who commit suicide -- and found that their psychological profiles were a match. In other words, he argues that if any of the perpetrators of mass shootings in the U.S. lived in Iraq, or Afghanistan, chances are that person would have acted out in the same way -- just with different weapons. However, the difference in the way we've reacted to foreign terrorists compared with domestic mass murder "terrorists" is striking.

After September 11th, we made a serious commitment to reducing the chances of that ever happening again. We banned box cutters, big toothpaste tubes and shampoo bottles on planes. We required passengers to take off shoes and other personal apparel during airport security screening. We embarked on a national and international eavesdropping effort to track suspicious people and actions in a huge database. And then we went to war in an effort to root out perceived weapons of mass destruction.

On the other hand, we didn't open up numerous mental health clinics overseas to treat those disturbed potential terrorists. We didn't encourage everyone to take flying lessons so they could steer passenger jets in an emergency. We didn't try to get every nation in the world to build more weapons of mass destruction as deterrence. We didn't say, "shoe bombs don't kill people, bad people kill people," and we didn't arm all airline personal and passengers.

So far, the gun control debate in this country has been largely misdirected -- partly due to the fact that we have a $30 billion gun industry with NRA lobbyists funding well-organized propaganda -- and targeting politicians through campaign donations. But as far as I know -- no one is seriously suggesting that we should ban hunting rifles or minimize the fun people have at shooting ranges. I haven't seen any proposal to ban all handguns.

Rather, what many reasonable people have started to realize is that no one needs guns of mass human destruction unless their aim is to kill a lot of people at once -- a task best left to our military or SWAT teams, if necessary.

Actually, Americans are angrier about last month's horrific school shooting in Connecticut than they were about the September 11th terrorist attacks, according to a recent poll.

To put this in perspective, 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan combined, resulted in about 10,000 American deaths. During that same 10-year period, according to government data, gun homicides resulted in more than 110,000 American deaths. And while not all of those deaths involved semiautomatic weapons, it still seems obvious that we could reduce those numbers by taking some basic, even conservative steps, like banning sales of certain weapons and cartridges, cross referencing gun and health databases, and funding more studies on gun violence.

In post-Newtown America, the simple fact remains: We need to treat gun violence as a serious threat to our common defense.