Rand Paul Blocks Obama's Surgeon General Nominee for Being Too Anti-Gun

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Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul put a hold on the nomination of Vivek Murthy to be Surgeon General on Tuesday. His sole concern, echoing nearly a month of critique from conservatives, is that Murthy opposes guns.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Paul explained the rationale for the hold, which will keep Murthy's nomination from getting to the Senate floor.

Dr. Murthy has continually referred to guns as a public health issue on par with heart disease and has diminished the role of mental health in gun violence. As a physician, [Ed. – Paul is an ophthalmologist] I am deeply concerned that he has advocated that doctors use their position of trust to ask patients, including minors, details about gun ownership in the home. His organization has also advocated that physicians collect and report data on gun ownership to the Federal Government and increasing Federal funding for gun control research.

There are three standard gun rights arguments in that paragraph. First, that guns shouldn't be considered a public health issue. Second, that doctors shouldn't be allowed to ask about guns in the home. Third, that the government shouldn't collect data on gun use.

Those arguments were raised in a Washington Times opinion piece against Murthy earlier this month as well. The Gun Owners of America, a pro-gun group often considered to be even more dogmatic than the NRA ran a piece calling Murtha an "anti-gun fanatic," who might "channel huge amounts of taxpayer dollars to 'junk science studies'" that would criticize the prevalence of firearms. Both outlets pointed to tweets from Murtha as evidence of his hostility to guns.

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In the aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook, President Obama gave the CDC funding to research gun violence in America. The report outlining the goals of the research were balanced, so much so that Guns&Ammo magazine praised them, suggesting that the government agreed with most pro-gun arguments. (The findings themselves will take 3 to 5 years to complete.)

On the first page of the report, that argument was undermined.

Fatal and nonfatal firearm violence poses a serious threat to the safety and welfare of the American public. … Nonfatal violence often has significant physical and psychological impacts, including psychological outcomes for those in proximity to individuals who are injured or die from gun violence.

And, later:

The complexity and frequency of firearm-related violence combined with its impact on the health and safety of the nation’s residents make it a topic of considerable public health importance and suggest that a public health approach should be incorporated into the strategies used to prevent future harm and injuries

In other words, the government considers guns to be a public safety issue as well. That's echoed by research from a variety of other places.

During a hearing earlier this month, Murthy's opposition to guns prompted questions from senators. "I do not intend to use my office as surgeon general as a bully pulpit on gun control," Murthy said. That wasn't good enough for Paul. His letter concludes: "Dr. Murthy has disqualified himself from being Surgeon General because of his intent to use that position to launch an attack on Americans' right to own a firearm under the guise of a public health and safety campaign."

If Murthy does eventually become surgeon general, he'd likely preside over a significant milestone in American history. In 2015, guns are expected to pass cars as a cause of death in the United States.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.