OOPS: Senator Accidentally Makes The Case For Treating Gun Violence As A Public Health Threat

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Senate sponsor of the Secret Science Reform Act. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE
Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Senate sponsor of the Secret Science Reform Act. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE

During an appearance on Fox News’ On The Record with Greta Van Susteren on Monday night, physician and Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso (R) inadvertently made the case for tackling gun violence as a public health threat — even while slamming President Barack Obama’s Surgeon General nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy, for holding that same position.

The gun lobby and its allies in Congress have been urging the Senate to reject Murthy’s nomination over his beliefs that gun violence represents an urgent public health threat, that doctors should be able to talk to their patients about gun safety, and that Congress should pass standard gun violence prevention legislation such as universal background checks.

After asking Barrasso if he would join fellow Republicans such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) in blocking Murthy’s nomination, Van Susteren brought up the fact that previous Surgeons General have held ostensibly political positions on public health issues such as smoking, and wondered what made those views different from how Murthy approaches gun violence. Barrasso’s answer was revealing:

BARRASSO: Surgeon General is the nation’s doctor. You want somebody who has a long history of experience in taking care of patients, and this nominee seems much more committed to politics than to patients. His claim-to-fame is farming organizations to help promote the healthcare law and to go after second amendment rights […]

VAN SUSTEREN: The job is sort of a peculiar one. Maybe that’s an inside word. There have been instances like the Surgeon General in the 60’s was political about cigarettes. That somehow different in your mind?

BARRASSO: Cigarettes dealt with one of the three major causes if not all three major causes of death in the United States — heart disease, cancer, and stroke. It’s [an] education process… There is a role for education, not trampling on the constitution.

Indeed, gun violence is also a major cause of death and injury in the United States. Homicide and suicide are two of the top three leading causes of death among 15 to 34 year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the vast majority of those deaths involve guns. Gun violence accounts for about twice as many deaths as AIDS, and will surpass automobile accidents as the number one killer of young people by next year if current trends hold.

In fact, the very Surgeon General who made tobacco use prevention a major American public health issue, Reagan-appointee Dr. C. Everett Koop, was also a major proponent of approaching gun violence as a public health threat. So was Dr. David Satcher, who served as Surgeon General under both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. National doctors’ groups — including the American Medical Association (AMA), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Psychiatric Association (APA), and the American College of Emergency Physicians — all endorse the exact same positions that Barrasso, Paul, and the gun lobby claim disqualify Murthy.