No Surgeon General in the Ebola Fight?

Frieden
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control, leaves a White House news conference.

Blame the Gun Lobby.

In recent months, the public face of the U.S. government’s response to the Ebola epidemic has been Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control.

Writing in Health Affairs, J. Stephen Morrison calls Frieden “invaluable,” reporting that “though he may have erred on occasion, [Frieden’s] statements to the American public were overwhelmingly lucid, consistent, powerful, and closely echoed by the President and other senior officials.”

Although it makes sense that the director of the CDC should be out front in talking about the epidemic, there is powerful voice missing from the public discussion: the Surgeon General of the United States. The fact is that, since July 2013, the United States has not had a Surgeon General.

Why? The nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy for that position has been held up by the gun lobby. That’s right: The NRA and its allies have opposed confirmation of a well-qualified public health expert to the position because they think he might want to frame gun violence as a public health issue.

Writing in The Nation, Zoë Carpenter points out that:

This isn’t the first time the NRA has held up a nominee: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives went without a director for seven years because of opposition from the gun lobby. But never before has the group set itself so strongly against a surgeon general nominee. So why now? The NRA said Murthy’s ‘blatant activism on behalf of gun control’ attracted their attention.

But the gun lobby’s campaign against Murthy isn’t really about his record, or him at all. His positions on guns are hardly radical or even activist and his views are consistent with those of the majority of Americans. Polling indicates that the public is far more supportive of new gun control laws than members of Congress or, certainly, the NRA.

Furthermore, Murthy’s views represent a consensus among medical professionals that gun violence is a major public health issue. Gun violence, including suicide, kills some 30,000 Americans every year, about the same number as car accidents. Cars are highly regulated for health and safety; guns, barely. Accordingly, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among many others, have called for stronger gun safety laws. It would be surprising if, as a doctor, Murthy did not have concerns about gun violence and the strength of current regulations.

With public health professionals engaging more forcefully on the gun issue, the NRA has a pressing interest in muting their calls for stronger policy. Really, the campaign against Murthy is the continuation of a longstanding effort to make discussion of gun violence taboo. For years the NRA has worked to bury information about gun violence and its public health implications.

 Take Action

Delaware Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons have already expressed support for Dr. Murthy’s nomination. But in the wake of the mid-term elections, there’s a strong possibility that the NRA will push for its members to make anti-Murthy calls to the Senate. Members of DeCAGV are urged to do two things:

  1. Call or send email to Senators Carper and Coons to thank them for their support of Vivek Murthy and for a sensible public-health approach to gun violence. Their contact information is here.
  2. Stand with Vivek Murthy. Sign the national petition.
  3. Learn more about the epidemic of violence at the National Physicians Network.

 

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