No Surgeon General in the Ebola Fight?

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.


Progress for Gun Violence Prevention in 2014 Election

A candlelight vigil follows the Virginia Tech mass shooting in 2007.
A candlelight vigil follows the Virginia Tech mass shooting in 2007.

In addition to the victory for universal background checks in the Washington State initiative, there were other bright spots for gun violence prevention in the recent mid-term elections. According to Tim Daly at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, supporters of sensible gun policies won both large and small victories. Here’s part of Daly’s recap:

Gun Safety Groups Took A Giant Leap Towards Political Power Parity with the NRA in 2014.

The NRA will have spent more than $31 million on this year’s federal elections, far exceeding their roughly $8 million 2010 spending – where they out-spent gun safety groups by more than 5-to-1.

This year, however, gun safety groups – Washington Gun Responsibility, Americans for Responsible Solutions, Everytown Action Fund (WA), and Independence USA PAC — nearly matched the NRA’s spending, allotting more than $30 million to pass the successful ballot measure and support gun safety candidates around the country.

 In Governors and US Senate Races, Background Checks Helped Supporters.

Incumbent governors who signed the nation’s most sweeping post-Sandy Hook gun laws all won reelection. The strongest laws passed after Sandy Hook, were Colorado, Connecticut, New York’s. In all three states incumbent Democratic governors appear to have won reelection. In Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper appear to have overcome a challenging wave in his state outperforming Senator Udall by 4 points. In Connecticut, Governor Malloy was reelected, in a race where both gun lobby and gun safety groups spent seven figures.

Senators who voted for background checks won about as many races as those who voted No. Despite an unfavorable map and a wave election, Senators who voted yes on Manchin-Toomey performed well. 26 of this year’s Senate races featured incumbent Senators who were in office in April 2013 and voted on the Manchin-Toomey measure: 13 Yes votes and 13 No votes. 10 the 13 Senators who voted Yes were reelected, and that may become 11 if Sen. Landrieu wins a run-off election; meanwhile 11 of the 13 Senators who voted No. Meanwhile, pre-election surveys showed that background checks vote helped Senators who voted Yes.

In 2016, Geography and Demographics will be Much More Favorable for Supporters of Strong Gun Laws.

Voters of Color. Voter turnout among African-American, Latino and other voters of color is generally lower in midterm elections. This year, 75% of the electorate was made up of white, non-Hispanic voters, up from a 28% share in 2012. However, 2016 is likely to be the first election in American history where white, non-Hispanic voters are expected to make up less than 70% of the electorate. Support for common sense gun laws is strong among non-white voters: a 2013 poll of Latino voters found that 85% of respondents supported universal background checks. Among African American voters, recent polls show that 84% support universal background checks.

Single Women. Since 2000, the share of single women voting in elections has been growing. This year single women made up 22% of voters, up from 21% in 2010. Participation by single women is higher in Presidential years and in 2016, single women about a quarter of voters in 2016. Polls show that women care about the gun issue: in fact, almost all (93%) women support background checks for all gun purchases.

Young voters. Millenial voters are projected to increase by 4 million per year until 2018. By 2016, millenials are projected to represent one-third of all eligible voters. The gun issue is a key one to help drive turnout of millennial voters: according to a 2013 poll, 70% of respondents under the age of 30 agreed that “the gun culture in our society has gotten out of control” and 92% supported background checks for all gun sales.

DeCAGV Supports Culture of Peace

DeCAGV acting director George Higgins at a recent anti-violence panel sponsored by Delaware's Movement for a Culture of Peace.
DeCAGV acting director George Higgins (right) at a recent anti-violence panel sponsored by Delaware’s Movement for a Culture of Peace. DeCAGV has been at the table with this movement since it began in August.

Wilmington’s new Movement for a Culture of Peace is strongly supported by the Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence. The grass-roots anti-violence movement grew out of the Sept. 27, March for a Culture of Peace, which DeCAGV helped to organize. Both the march and the new movement have received national attention through Campaign Nonviolence (CNV). DeCAGV acting director George Higgins (right) was on a panel with other local activists at a recent forum held by the Movement for a Culture of Peace. Here’s a report on Wilmington from the Campaign Nonviolence website:

National Attention for Wilmington’s Movement for a Culture of Peace

Votes for Gun Safety

victory in WA DE copyDepending on your party or politics, yesterday’s election results can be viewed in a variety of different lights. But if you care about responsible solutions to gun violence, one thing is clear:

When given a choice, voters favor sensible gun safety laws.

That’s what happened in Washington State when ballot initiative I-594, expanding background checks to all gun sales, passed by a comfortable margin. The initiative movement started after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings—and gained steam when Washington state legislators failed to act to close the gun-show loophole. Despite (or perhaps because of) fierce NRA opposition, Washington voters took matters into their own hands and won a huge victory.

What does this show us?

  • I-594 was the only up-or-down vote on background checks this election cycle – and proved  that when Americans vote on common-sense public safety measures, gun safety wins.

  • The win in Washington shows elected officials in DC that if they don’t take action to prevent gun violence, Americans will take matters into their own hands. 

  • It also proves that while the gun lobby can bully politicians, they can’t bully the American people. 

It’s worth noting that Delaware’s legislature did not fail to act. It passed universal background checks and required reporting of lost or stolen guns during the 2013 session. DeCAVG will be active in the next legislative session, seeking additional common-sense approaches to the problem of gun violence in Delaware.


Sandy Hook Mom Speaks

Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence shares full text of Nicole Hockley’s speech, delivered May 8, 2013, at the bill signing of House Bill 35

(Dover, DE) — Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence is pleased to share Nicole Hockley’s speech, delivered May 8, 2013, at the bill signing of House Bill 35, held in Legislative Hall, Dover, Delaware:

Hello. My name is Nicole Hockley. I’m not a political person and have never done any lobbying before. Until recently, my primary role in life was being Mommy to my two sons.

But on 12/14, when my beautiful 6 year old boy, Dylan, was murdered in his first grade classroom alongside 19 of his friends and 6 of his educators, my role in life changed. While I will always remain a Mommy, I am now committed to doing all I can to make sure that no other parent, no other family has to go through what I’m going through, what other parents of Sandy Hook are going through and what nearly 4000 families are currently going through as a result of gun violence just since 12/14. And that death toll continues to increase every day.

I’m grateful that the people of Delaware, through their elected leaders, are taking a stand to make this state safer from gun violence.

This legislation to support background checks that the General Assembly has passed and that the Governor is signing into law today will spare Delaware families unimaginable heartache. And it will save lives without interfering with anyone’s Second Amendment rights.

Will it stop every crime? Of course not. But it will help to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons and those who are dangerously mentally ill. In Delaware, criminals will no longer be able to bypass required background checks simply by purchasing a gun on the Internet or at a gun show, where sometimes no questions are asked. It’s a common sense solution and I applaud Delaware for making this important step forward.

But there is still more that Delaware can do to save lives and protect its people and children.

In Newtown, we learned the brutal truth about the devastation that high capacity magazines can cause. The person who killed my son carried ten – 30 round large capacity magazines … that is 300 rounds. He chose to leave his smaller capacity magazines at home. He chose to have the best kill rate possible by using high capacity magazines, which only exist to deliver as many bullets as possible in the shortest time frame. In approximately 4 minutes, he shot 154 bullets and killed 26 women and children. In an instant, my precious boy was gone.

But in the time it took him to reload in one of the classrooms, Dylan’s classroom, 11 children were able to escape. If the shooter’s magazines had held 10 rounds instead of 30, forcing the shooter to reload at least 6 more times, what opportunities would have been available for someone to disarm him, as we’ve seen in other tragedies. If he had had to reload more often, how many more children might be alive today? Maybe my Dylan would still be alive.

The General Assembly must pass House Bill 58 and limit high capacity magazines in Delaware.

Senate Bill 16, about reporting lost and stolen guns, is a very simple bill and it’s just plain common sense. We know many criminals get their guns by having other people buy them in so-called “straw purchases.” And when the guns are used in a crime and traced back, the purchaser, who obviously doesn’t want to tell the police that he actually bought the gun for a convicted criminal, just tells police that the gun was “lost” or “stolen.” All this bill says it that if you really have your gun lost or stolen, you have to report it so the police can help you get your property back. What law-abiding citizen would be against reporting stolen property to the police? There is no logical reason not to pass Senate Bill 16.

What happened in Newtown can happen anywhere. No community is immune. Any of you could be in my position. That’s why it’s important to make meaningful changes now. Don’t wait until it happens in your community before taking action.

I’m so grateful that Delaware is moving forward to keep its citizens safe and I want to express my thanks to the legislature, the Governor and the people of Delaware. Background checks are such an important and meaningful step forward and I encourage you to keep standing up for what you know is right. I hope the leaders of others states and the politicians in Washington are watching and will follow your lead.