The Cautionary Instruction: NRA shoots down nomination of public health expert

Friday, 21 March 2014 06:00 AM Written by  Matt Mangino

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Intense opposition from the National Rifle Association may have doomed President Barack Obama's nomination of  Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy for surgeon general.

In a letter to Senate leadership in February, the NRA warned against the confirmation, saying, "Dr. Murthy's record of political activism in support of radical gun control measures raises significant concerns."

Murthy is a physician and public health expert at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is the co-founder and president of Doctors for America a group of about 16,000 physicians and medical students that advocates for access to affordable, high quality health care and has been a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act

Murthy became a target of the NRA after he wrote a letter to congressional leaders in his role as president of Doctors for America. “As health care professionals who are confronted with the human cost of gun violence every day, we are unwavering in our belief that strong measures to reduce gun violence must be taken immediately. We strongly urge Congress and the Obama administration to put legislation in place now and develop a comprehensive plan to reduce gun-related injuries and deaths,” Murthy wrote.

He pointed out in the letter that 100,000 people are killed or injured by guns in America every year. It is a statement of fact that gun violence is a public health concern. According to a report by the Center for American Progress, gun deaths will surpass car accident deaths among young people next year.

Murthy’s view is not controversial within the public health community. The American Medical Association officially opposes any laws that would block doctors from having open conversations about firearm safety in the home and the Academy of Pediatrics has recommended specific gun violence prevention measures to Congress.

Murthy’s position is not unprecedented. Past surgeons general, including C. Everett Koop, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, spoke out on the public health threats presented by guns. In 1992 Koop co-authored a paper, “Time to Bite the Bullet Back.”

Koop indicated that his views on gun violence were informed by his 1985 Workshop on Violence and Public Health.

“No society, including ours, need be permeated by firearm homicide. …The right to own or operate a motor vehicle carries with it certain responsibilities…we propose that the right to own or operate a firearm carries with it the same prior conditions,” wrote Koop.

(Top image: Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy prepares to testify before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Feb. 4, 2014 in support of his nomination for the post of U.S. Surgeon General. Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)


Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His book The Executioner's Toll, 2010 is due out this summer.

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