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“Watching The Second Amendment In Action”: Setting Gun Violence Apart From Other Public Health Risks

Like many of you, no doubt, I watched the studio-produced live video of two local television journalists being murdered in Virginia yesterday pretty soon after it happened. I might have also looked at the vastly more graphic killer-generated cellphone video of the event, but chose not to. Most media outlets soon stopped posting or linking to either video before long. At TNR, Jeet Heer explains why: there was no doubt who the perp was, and thus no real reason to distribute the video.

But also at TNR, Brian Beutler thinks otherwise:

The line between informing the public and macabre gratuitousness is murky, and staying on the right side of it requires great discretion and judgment. But rather than cleanse newscasts and websites of the on-air killing, producers and editors should make it easily available to their viewers and readers, because our society unfortunately needs vivid reminders of the awesome, life-stopping power of firearms.

In an abstract sense, everyone knows guns are deadly, in the same way everyone knows cigarettes are deadly. But our political culture—the conservative faction of it, at least—sanitizes the way guns end life in a way that sets gun violence apart from other public health risks….

When a bullet pierces human flesh, that body becomes extremely ill right away, no less than when a body flies through a windshield or experiences a severe electric shock. But where government actively regulates cars and construction sites—indeed is applauded for doing so—it simultaneously takes steps to abstract guns from the harm they cause, and silence public officials who refuse to play along. Last year, dozens of senators opposed President Barack Obama’s Surgeon General nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy, on the grounds that he described gun violence as a public health issue and, in his private capacity, had supported efforts to further regulate firearms.

Murthy was eventually confirmed, but barely, and only because Democrats had disarmed the filibuster as a means of blocking executive branch nominees.

What Beutler doesn’t mention here is that he was a gunshot victim not long ago; his was the body that became “extremely ill right away,” and he might well have died. He wrote about the incident at Salon back in 2013, mainly to rebut the idea that gun violence justified racial profiling. But his descriptions of the shock he went into and his gradual horrifying realization after surgery of the damage wrought by three bullets was unforgettable.

So this is one person who has experienced the downside of the Second Amendment rights that make America a uniquely gun-toting country and wants the rest of us to get at least a small glimpse of it as well, instead of treating the shooting of human beings with guns as an abstraction or glorifying it as the essence of liberty.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 27, 2015

August 28, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Deaths, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“HO, HO, NO!: The NRA’s Twisted List For Santa

You might have heard that the U.S. Senate last week finally voted to confirm the president’s nominee for surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy.

You also might have wondered what all the fuss was about. The vote on America’s top doctor was held up for nearly a year, thanks to a campaign by the National Rifle Association. Dr. Murthy was endorsed by the medical community, but the NRA’s lobbying machine turned his nomination into a political battle. All because Murthy believes that gun violence, which kills an average of 86 Americans every day, is a public health issue.

For most of us, acknowledging that America has a gun violence problem is stating a fact. For the NRA’s leadership, it’s heresy.

The gun lobby’s goal is to expand its customer base—and boost gunmakers’ bottom lines, no matter the risk to public safety. So a new surgeon general committed to reducing gun violence isn’t what the gun lobby wanted for Christmas.

The NRA’s wish list looks more like this:

• Guns for felons. The NRA has fought for the rights of felons to buy and own firearms. That means successfully restoring gun rights to convicted murderers, robbers, rapists, and people guilty of transferring explosives to international terrorists.

• Guns for terror suspects. The NRA has opposed efforts to block terror suspects from buying guns. Today the FBI can stop terror suspects from boarding a plane, but not from purchasing firearms.

• Guns for domestic abusers. The NRA objects to restraining orders that require domestic abusers to give up their guns. This year, six states—including Scott Walker’s Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana—defied the gun lobby and enacted laws that will help keep guns out of the hands of abusers.

• Guns for the mentally ill. The NRA opposed a new California law that will help prevent gun deaths, homicides and suicides both. Police and family members now can present evidence to a judge, who can order temporary custody of a mentally ill person’s guns for a brief, emergency period.

• Gun gag orders. The NRA objects to doctors asking patients basic questions about gun ownership. For example, before Congress repealed it in 2012, an NRA-authored gag order barred doctors and military officers from talking about guns with service members at risk of suicide.

• Guns on campus. The NRA has pushed for “campus carry” laws—despite near unanimous opposition from college presidents, law enforcement, and parents—and for arming educators in K-12 schools.

• Guns in bars. The NRA has pushed to allow guns in bars—despite the fact that 40 percent of people convicted of homicide had been drinking alcohol at the time of their offense.

Guns in restaurants and grocery stores. The NRA supports the open carry of guns in cafes, burrito shops, and the produce aisle. They reiterated their position in June, after a staffer first made the mistake of calling open carry demonstrations “weird” and “scary.”

• Gun lawsuits. The NRA wants the ability to sue local officials for passing laws that protect public safety. They push for so-called “preemption” bills in statehouses—which allow them to file expensive lawsuits against towns, cities, and even mayors and city commissioners.

• Guns for everyone, no questions asked. The NRA opposed Washington State’s gun-sale background checks ballot measure this year. The measure passed with 59 percent of the vote. Like background check laws across the country, it will help keep guns out of dangerous hands, reduce gun crime, and save lives.

That’s the gun lobby’s wish list for America—more guns for everyone, everywhere, anytime.

The new surgeon general certainly has his work cut out for him. But in 2014, numerous states passed common-sense public safety laws, showing that the momentum for gun safety is building. And just like Dr. Murthy’s confirmation, that’s bad news for the NRA.

 

By: John Feinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety; The Daily Beast, December 23, 2014

December 24, 2014 Posted by | Gun Lobby, Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Ounce Of Courage”: We Need To Talk About Guns, Whether The NRA Likes It Or Not

The medical community has been no match for the National Rifle Association for decades. By the time Congress leaves town for the holidays, we’ll know if senators have shown an ounce of courage or if the NRA has bagged one more trophy. Either way, we won’t get the high-stakes discussion we need about guns.

At issue is the fate of Dr. Vivek Murthy, nominated over a year ago to be surgeon general but consigned to limbo due to his completely unremarkable view that gun violence is a public health problem. Murthy’s pre-nomination Twitter feed attests to his passion for the tighter gun laws that he, like most doctors, believes would cut down on deaths and injuries. But if Murthy lands the job, don’t expect him to talk about any of that. He told a Senate committee in February that he wouldn’t use the post as a bully pulpit for new gun laws.

So much for the surgeon general’s role as “the nation’s leading spokesman on matters of public health.” And so much for standing up to the NRA.

The group blasted out of the box charging that Murthy supported “radical gun control measures” and would use the office of surgeon general to advance “his pre-existing campaign against gun ownership.” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist and 2016 presidential prospect, said Murthy would attack the constitutional right to own firearms “under the guise of a public health and safety campaign” and said he would try to block his confirmation.

The 2014 campaign, with its band of skittish red-state Senate Democrats vulnerable to NRA attacks, put Murthy’s future on hold. His pivotal moment — vote? no vote? failed vote? — has finally arrived, and it happens to coincide with the Dec. 14 anniversary of the murder of 26 children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The juxtaposition is illuminating.

One rap against Murthy is that, in Paul’s words, he would encourage doctors to “use their position of trust to ask patients, including minors, details about gun ownership in the home.” To which I say, if only. If only the health professionals who examined and treated Adam Lanza had asked him and his mother those questions and managed to get that home arsenal out of reach before he went on his Sandy Hook rampage two years ago.

Paul also said he was concerned that Murthy considers guns “a public health issue on par with heart disease and has diminished the role of mental health in gun violence.” But in a lengthy study of Adam Lanza’s “psychological deterioration” released last month, Connecticut’s Office of the Child Advocate said repeatedly that guns are the critical factor in mass shootings.

“The conclusion that access to guns drives shooting episodes far more than the presence of mental illness is inescapable. Those countries that have tight gun controls in general experience less overall gun violence and have fewer episodes per capita of mass shootings,” the authors wrote. They said mental illness “plays only a small role” in mass murder while guns, “especially assault weapons with high-capacity magazines,” play a “ubiquitous role.” Widespread access to such weapons and ammunition “is an urgent public health concern,” they wrote.

Medical professionals agree. The American Academy of Pediatrics website lists eight priorities in its federal advocacy section, and No. 1 is “Keeping children safe: Gun violence prevention.” Banning assault weapons is the top item on its state advocacy page. The American Medical Association favors an assault weapons ban and closing loopholes that allow gun buyers to avoid background checks.

Gun safety activists marked the second anniversary of Sandy Hook by releasing a study that found at least 95 school shootings in 33 states have occurred since that tragedy. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) called Congress “complicit in these murders if we continue to sit back and do nothing to reverse this trend.”

There was never a more complicit moment than in April 2013, four months after Sandy Hook, when the Senate tried to pass a bipartisan bill to require background checks online and at gun shows. Supporters needed 60 votes to break a filibuster, and only mustered 54.

Under Senate rules for nominations, Murthy needs only 51 votes. If he prevails, he told senators he’ll focus primarily on obesity, “the defining challenge of our time.” In other words, he’d be another Michelle Obama, who chose obesity as a worthy but relatively non-controversial First Lady cause. He wouldn’t be another C. Everett Koop, the Reagan-era surgeon general who crusaded against tobacco and mailed sexually explicit AIDS information to every household in America.

Restraint could get Murthy confirmed. To make real progress against gun violence, he’d need to channel Koop.

 

By: Jill Lawrence, The National Memo, December 11, 2014

December 12, 2014 Posted by | Guns, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Blame-The-Victim Mentality”: Senate Obstruction Through The “Funhouse Mirror”

One of the most durable GOP talking points in support of its plea to gain control of the Senate is that mean old Harry Reid, doing the bidding of scary radical Barack Obama, runs the place like the House (well, the House as run by Democrats when they controlled it!), allowing no debate or amendments. That argument apparently got under the skin of Juan Williams of Fox News and The Hill, not exactly a big liberal, who called it out as the inverse of the truth, using the stalled confirmation of the president’s Surgeon General nominee as an example:

The nation has not had a surgeon general since November 2013 because the GOP is blocking the president’s nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy. At a time of medical emergency, what is the Republicans’ problem with Murthy?

In October 2012, the doctor tweeted: “Tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of the NRA. Guns are a health care issue.”

Dr. Murthy, a graduate of Harvard and the Yale School of Medicine, has impressive credentials for a 36-year-old. He created a breakthrough new company to lower the cost of drugs and bring new drugs to market more quickly.

But his big sin, for Senate Republicans, is that as a veteran of emergency rooms Dr. Murthy expressed his concern about the nation’s indisputable plague of gun violence.

When Dr. Murthy was nominated, the National Rife Association announced plans to “score” a vote on the doctor’s nomination, meaning any Republican or Democrat running in a conservative state who voted for Murthy would be punished in NRA literature and feel the pain in their fundraising come midterm election season.

When public anxiety over Ebola became a GOP talking point, 29 House Democrats wrote to Reid calling for the Senate to expose the Republicans for their deceitful strategy. They wanted, and still want, Senate Democrats to push for a vote on the surgeon general nominee and force the Republicans to explain their opposition. Their thinking is that swift action is needed to put a surgeon general in place and give the American people a trusted source of guidance on Ebola.

The Tea Party’s favorite senator, Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, last week agreed on the need for a surgeon general in a CNN interview. But in the funhouse mirror-style so loved by the Republican base, Cruz blamed Obama for the vacancy.

“Of course we should have a surgeon general in place,” Cruz told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “And we don’t have one because President Obama, instead of nominating a health professional, he nominated someone who is an anti-gun activist.”

This is a pretty good example of the kind of blame-the-victim mentality whereby the party of obstruction is projecting its posture onto its opponents. And we can obviously expect a lot more of it if Republicans gain control of the Senate and with Harry Reid out of the way begin cooperating with House GOPers to send bill after bill to the White House.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, October 27, 2014

October 28, 2014 Posted by | Ebola, GOP, U. S. Surgeon General | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You Do The Math”: 30,000 Yearly Gun Deaths Is A Health Epidemic

It was back in 1996 that Congressman Jay Dickey (R-AR) inserted language into the 1997 budget that prohibited gun research funded by the CDC. And from that time forward, physicians and public health researchers have been a favorite target of the NRA. The most public example of this attempt to demonize the notion that guns constitute a health risk is, of course, the Florida law (“Docs versus Glocks”) which potentially criminalizes physicians who ask patients about guns. Yet another instance in which gun “rights” were used to distort the role and value of physicians was the successful attempt by Rand Paul, the self-certified opthalmologist from Kentucky, to block or at least temporarily derail the appointment of Vivek Murthy to be head of the CDC.

Rand’s opposition to Murthy’s nomination was nothing except an attempt to pander to a receptive audience, i.e., hardcore NRA members and other right-wing folks, whose support he will surely need if and when he announces a bid for the White House in 2016. I actually have no issue with Paul or any other political candidate saying whatever has to be said to get his ducks lined up in the water in order to try and latch onto the gold ring. But when Rand politicizes the importance and value of public health as regards guns or anything else, he’s stepped across a line that ordinarily demarcates stupidity from common sense.

Last week the first case of someone infected with Ebola was confirmed. It turned out to be a man who came into contact with an Ebola patient in his native country of Liberia shortly before coming to the United States. And while he evidently told hospital staff in Texas that he had recently been in an infected zone, the hospital in Dallas mistakenly released him back into the general population and God knows how many individuals may have come into contact with this poor guy before he was properly diagnosed.

The challenge now facing Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital is to identify every person with whom this patient may have had contact, get them isolated and tested and hope that the disease hasn’t spread. But I’ll tell you this: If there’s even the slightest hint that the Ebola virus might appear in Dallas or elsewhere, guess which agency the entire American population will expect to step in? It won’t be the NRA, that’s for sure. Despite the fact that the penultimate guardians of the 2nd Amendment, along with Rand Paul, claim to know what doctors should and shouldn’t do, the burden of dealing with Ebola will fall right where it should — on public health researchers and the CDC.

I’m not saying that gun violence is as much a threat to public health as Ebola. In roughly a month, the WHO estimates that the “epidemic” has killed more than 3,000 people in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Representatives from more than twenty countries are now meeting in London to figure out how to get more medical aid and resources to contain the deadly spread. In Sierra Leone there are five new cases reported every hour of every day.

Hey, wait a minute. The Ebola mortality rate is estimated at 50 percent, which means that 30 people will die each day from the virus in Sierra Leone, which is about one-third of all the cases that are being reported throughout West Africa at this time. Do the arithmetic, as Bill Clinton said, and this adds up to 30,000+ Ebola victims in West Africa over a full year. Isn’t that roughly the same number of people who die from gun violence each year in the United States?

But let’s not forget that the CDC isn’t allowed to figure out what to do about gun violence and if it were up to the NRA, every state would follow Florida’s lead in gagging doctors who want to talk to their patients about guns. If 30,000 Ebola deaths in Africa constitutes an epidemic, what do you call 30,000 gun deaths which have occurred every year in America for the past twenty years?

 

By: Mike Weisser, The Huffington Post Blog, October 6, 2014

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Gun Deaths, National Rifle Association, Public Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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