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August 20, 2015

The Surgeon General Re-Fills His Public Health Prescription


President Obama’s surgeon general Vivek Murthy made news again this month by saying he doesn’t regret calling gun violence a public health issue.

This is just another example of the gun control lobby trying to change the debate they are losing by changing the language used to describe the criminal misuse of firearms. Rather than focusing on criminal justice policy changes to help continue and accelerate the steady downward trend in gun-related violence, the anti-gun crowd actively seeks to redefine the issue as a public health problem.

Language games aside, the unfortunate cases of gun violence are not bacteria, viruses or cancer. There is no vaccine or health intervention for criminal behavior.

Americans overwhelmingly understand this. Murthy’s comments are counter to public opinion. A national poll found that an overwhelming 84 percent of respondents see gun violence as a criminal justice issue, rather than a public health issue. When asked about whether the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) should spend its resources studying the use of guns in crime, 88 percent responded with a resounding no. Some 71 percent of respondents said that the federal government should not classify gun violence as a public health issue in the manner of viruses and diseases.

Despite the anti-gun activists’ rhetoric, guns are not a disease. There are legal, healthy, legitimate ways to use a firearm that millions of law-abiding Americans enjoy every day.

But the gun control crowd is not interested in hunting, shooting sports or self-defense. And if they can’t win the debate based on facts, they are content to change the language used to define the terms of the debate. None of this changes the fact that the criminal misuse of firearms remains a criminal justice issue – just as cancer and heart disease remain public health priorities.