A year ago, the gun lobby showed its muscle on Capitol Hill, thwarting efforts by the Obama White House and others to enact new regulations on gun purchases and ownership. Thus, the country did not respond as many hoped it would in the aftermath of the slaughter at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Now a new episode is unfolding about the hold of the National Rifle Association on Congress. President Obama has nominated Vivek Murthy to serve as the country’s surgeon general. The gun lobby makes the over-the-top claim that he would use the position to pursue “radical gun control measures.”
Look at his credentials, and Murthy appears well-qualified, with a medical degree and master’s degree in business administration, teaching medicine at Harvard, an attending physician at a leading hospital in Boston, on medical advisory boards and part of other related organizations. What has he said about curbing gun violence? He argues that the problem should be view as a matter of public health, the country mobilizing as if seeking to halt an epidemic.
That leads him to support such ideas as expanded background checks, longer waiting periods for the purchase of guns and restrictions on ammunition purchases. Most telling, Murthy advocates federal research into gun violence. His position gains credibility from what he has experienced in the emergency rooms, seeking to repair the devastation from gunshot wounds.
At his confirmation hearing, Murthy told senators that obesity would be his top priority, adding that gun control wouldn’t be an area of focus. That retreat hardly improved his prospects, several Democrats still wavering, bowing to the gun lobby. What deserves emphasis is that Murthy stands far from the fringe, his views at the center of the long-running debate.
Thirty thousand Americans die from gun violence each year. The toll points to a public health challenge that many doctors have good reason to address — led by the surgeon general.