DALTON

The war on terror has been one giant distraction from gun control.

On 9/11, our country lost 2,977 lives to terrorism. We've since spent billions filling airports with TSA agents and equipment. We started two wars which have killed 6,118 soldiers and over 150,000 civilians at a cost of $2.5 trillion.

Are we really safer as a result? Well, the 2009 Christmas Bomber boarded a plane despite heavy security, and was only foiled by his own stupidity. Could terrorists strike here again? Of course. While we can turn every airport into a security contractor's dream, we cannot protect every crowded mall, stadium, school, movie theater, train station, and concert hall. No matter what we do, we will always be vulnerable to politically- or religiously-motivated terrorism.

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While our attention is focused on potential threats from Muslim extremists, we're ignoring the terror at our own doorstep. About 30,000 people a year die from gun violence right here under our noses. That's 10 times the number killed on September 11.

The news is filled with now-familiar lists of shooting rampages: Columbine. Virginia Tech. Tucson. Milwaukee. Aurora. Binghamton -- my hometown -- where Bobbie King, our beloved family friend and mother of 10, was gunned down in 2009, along with a dozen immigrants she was teaching English. And now, crushingly, a classroom of kindergartners in Newtown, Connecticut.

But the Newtown tragedy, and all the other high-profile and heartbreaking mass shootings, are only the tip of the iceberg. According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, almost 100,000 people are shot annually in the U.S. Almost 32,000 die -- 55 percent from suicides, and 45 percent from murder, accidents, and police interventions. That's 90 gun deaths a day. Six of those are children: the equivalent of two Newtowns a week. But you don't see an endless stream of tearful vigils on the news because most deaths occur in ones or twos -- not among well-off suburban whites -- but among poorer and minority communities.

The real threat to national security --t he real enabler of ongoing, domestic, humdrum terror -- is the National Rifle Association. Through huge expenditures on lobbying, direct campaign contributions, and political ads ($20 million in the 2012 election cycle), the NRA strikes fear in the hearts of incumbents of both parties. For decades, the NRA has thwarted meaningful gun control.

While politicians get lost in the weeds about assault weapons or handguns, concealed weapons, background checks and permits, and whether you can buy at a trade show or a store, gun control policy remains stalemated and people continue to die. While NRA loyalists blather on about the unassailable sanctity of the 2nd Amendment, people continue to die. While we are subjected to the insulting aphorism that "guns don't kill people, people kill people," people continue to die.

Over two-thirds of U.S. homicides are committed with guns rather than knives or blunt objects. A gun gets the job done fastest.

Other industrialized democracies look upon us in horror. Somehow, citizens of Canada, France, and England are able to go about their lives without fear of oppression by a tyrannical government and the need to form well regulated militias to protect themselves. They also do not try to convince themselves that a kindergarten teacher who is packing heat will be better able to protect her charges.

The time for politicians to stand up to the NRA is long past. It goes without saying that the ban on assault weapons should be reinstated. But why stop there? Americans already own almost 300 million guns. How should they be dealt with? On Sunday's "Meet the Press," Senator Diane Feinstein -- while generally taking a strong stand for gun control -- still reassured viewers that she was only talking about banning future purchases of assault weapons, not about "retroactive" measures. Clearly, she's also cowed by those who dare us to pry their guns out of their cold, dead fingers.

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Yes, we should ban future civilian purchases of assault weapons, and have better background checks to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. But we also need a domestic demilitarization. If the government can pay out $2.8 billion in "Cash for Clunkers" to get three quarters of a million polluting cars off the highway, it can also offer buybacks for existing guns. Perhaps not hunting rifles, but certainly handguns and high-capacity guns.

Spending billions to prevent further terrorist acts was an easy call for Congress to make. Now, the politicians who are making post-Newtown grand pronouncements should put their money where their mouth is: Pass real laws, do real enforcement, and spend real money to get guns off the street and halt the terror at our doorstep.

Jenny Gitlitz is an occasional Eagle contributor.