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RedBlueAmerica: Should gun policy halt choice for surgeon general?

The National Rifle Association is flexing its political muscle again — this time in opposition to President Obama’s nominee to be surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy. Why? Murthy believes that guns are a health issue, and has advocated gun safety measures like an assault weapons ban, mandatory safety training, and limits on ammunition. Is gun usage a health issue? Could Murthy threaten gun rights?

Gun ownership is a right as well as a threat to public health

Gun ownership is a constitutional right — and also a potent threat to public health. If public research about firearms has been “anti-gun,” it’s probably because reality itself is anti-gun. And as the controversy over Dr. Vivek Murthy shows, the NRA will choose guns over reality every time.

Reality: Guns are not a benign tool. When used as designed, they injure and kill. That is their only purpose. Period. In that sense, guns are little different from rat poison, though rat poison is usually sold with a warning attached.

Reality: Guns do an efficient job of working as designed, at least in the United States. There are about 30,000 gun-related homicides and suicides a year in the country.

Reality: In 2010 nearly two-thirds of those deaths — more than 19,000 fatalities — were suicides. The FBI that same year recorded just 230 justifiable homicides, suggesting that self-obliteration is a much, much more common use of firearms in this country than self-

defense. Generally, we try to limit access to easy self-harm — in San Francisco, for example, they’re about to build a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Reality: Research has shown that keeping a gun in the home actually increases one’s chance of death, usually at the hands of a family member or “intimate acquaintance.” Despite all that, it’s possible that there are good, constructive reasons to possess a gun. (Just as there are good, constructive reasons to own rat poison.) It’s just that the NRA chokes off a fair conversation (and even scientific) at every opportunity, and construes even

common-sense restrictions — like requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen guns — as “anti-gun” legislation instead of “pro-responsible gun ownership.” And it punishes legislators accordingly.

Silencing critics and stifling research doesn’t indicate that the NRA is very confident reality will bear out its view of the world. It’s an elevation of ideology over the plain facts. Too bad the facts (and their advocates) are losing.

Joel Mathis (joelmmathis@ is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine.

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