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Does a New Surgeon General Mean a New Conversation About Guns?

United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
Dr. Vivek Murthy testifies at a hearing before the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, February 4, 2014, on the matter of Murthy's nomination to the office of Surgeon General of the United States.
John Stoehr thinks Vivek Murthy can make the case for guns as a true public health issue.

As one of the last gasps of Democratic control, the Senate confirmed Vivek Murthy this week to be the nation's next Surgeon General.

Murthy's confirmation had been held up for more than a year by pro-gun lobbyists because of his support for new gun control measures. He co-founded the group Doctors for America, which has advocated for gun restrictions, but he has said his focus as Surgeon General will be on tackling America's obesity problem.

John Stoehr, managing editor of The Washington Spectator, wrote an opinion piece in Newsweek urging President Obama to push Murthy’s confirmation as a way to honor those killed in the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, and to raise gun violence as a public health issue.

Stoehr told WNPR's Where We Live that Murthy could follow in the footsteps of C. Everett Koop, the Surgeon General in the 1980s who warned about the dangers of cigarettes, and spoke frankly about the transmission of AIDS.

"He didn't do this through any kind of policy-making," said Stoehr of Koop, who died in 2013. "He did it through testimony to Congress, and just keep bringing our national focus to these two very important issues." 

Stoehr thinks Murthy, a respected physician who until his confirmation was a hospitalist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and taught at Harvard Medical School, can make the case for guns as a true public health issue. He said Murthy can make the case that "more guns means more violence means more death."

Stoehr thinks people will pay attention to a charismatic Surgeon General who makes the gun issue a top priority, and takes the focus away from the Second Amendment, which he called a political "dead end."

Murthy's views on guns aren't outside the mainstream of the medical establishment. His colleague at Doctors for America, Dr. Chris Lillis, told NPR's Mara Liasson, "Dr. Murthy's views that he expressed many years ago is in complete congruence with the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American College of Physicians, the American College of Surgeons, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. He said nothing different than what the rest of the public heath establishment has said."

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