Every year guns are used to kill thousands of people, and not always the bad guys. For decades, doctors and other public health experts have argued that preventing gun deaths, particularly from accidents and suicides, should be a priority — like curtailing car fatalities or tobacco use. For their sense, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and others on the pro-gun side have pilloried them, ruining careers and stopping needed research with the help of a cowed Congress. Their latest victim is Vivek Hallegere Murthy, President Obama's pick to be surgeon general, whose nomination is languishing in the Senate after the NRA and various conservative commentators attacked him. The NRA is wrong, and senators who know better should find some backbone.
Murthy is a Yale-trained physician, an instructor at Boston's prestigious Brigham and Women's Hospital and a health technology entrepreneur. As Obama's nominee for surgeon general, it's also no shock that he supports a variety of the president's policies, including on gun control. Among his sins, the NRA explained in a letter to Senate leaders, is past support for meek gun regulations such as licensing and waiting periods. He also once dared to claim that “guns are a health care issue,” a fact that any doctor with experience in the emergency room knows well. Murthy, the NRA fumed, would remove the ban on physicians asking patients whether they keep guns in the home and lift restrictions on gun death research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
All of those ideas sound pretty modest to us. Even if they weren't, they don't provide any pretext to oppose Murthy's confirmation, since he would not be in a position to set firearms policy as surgeon general. The fact that he's right just makes the insult worse.
Then again, this would not be the first time, or even the first time recently, that the pro-gun side has upheld a dangerous, maximalist ideology against the better judgment of experts — and simple reasoning.
The ban on CDC gun research is a case in point. At the NRA's urging, Congress in the 1990s hollowed out funding for studies on gun injuries and deaths; the result has been continuing uncertainty about many basic questions regarding how gun violence happens — even on how many firearms there are in the country, or on the most effective ways to prevent gun accidents in the home. Obama only just ended the madness, pushing the CDC last year to start researching again.
Or there is the recent contretemps over “smart guns,” designed only to fire when their owners are handling them. Gun activists went after a store in California that put them up for sale, because a New Jersey law requires guns sold in its borders to carry owner recognition technology once it becomes viable. This bizarre effort to brand smart firearms as some anti-gun conspiracy, rather than accepting them as new tools for responsible gun owners to prevent tragedies, is of a piece with Murthy's recent treatment: pure reaction, rather than sense, is the motivating factor.