We’re being held hostage. At gunpoint.

Obama nominated a very worthy candidate for Surgeon General. Dr. Vivek Murthy has degrees from Harvard and Yale, teaches medicine at Harvard, and is an attending physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.  He is involved in medical nonprofits and a federal medical advisory board.

He may not even be considered by the whole Senate.  What could he have done to deserve this?  Lied on his income taxes?  Not paid his nanny well enough? Conducted abortions?  No.  He had the utter temerity to recognize — and call out — a significance health concern in America today.

He identified guns as a public health issue.  That, according to the NRA, makes him totally unqualified to be Surgeon General. Congress is completely in the back pocket of the NRA, especially in an election year, so there is no chance of him being confirmed.  The administration will probably yank his nomination.

Can you think of any other case where an identified agent which resulted in the deaths of over 30,000 Americans in 2010 would not be considered a public health issue?  A crisis, even?  No.  And the situation gets worse when you look at young people, especially young African-American males: guns are the leading cause of death among African-American teenagers.  Not just homicide, either: a lot of suicides are committed with guns. Guns killed twice as many kids in 2010 as cancer did. A gun in a home is eleven times more likely to be used in a completed or attempted suicide than in a self-defense  scenario.  Homicide? Seven times more likely than self defense.  Accidental shootings? Four times.

Identifying gun deaths as a public health issue does not necessarily mean people can’t have guns.  But it might mean that gun owners be required to take safety courses or pass a test to be licensed (a standard for anyone wanting to drive a car — and cars are not designed to kill things).  They might be required to pass background checks —  God forbid some would-be gun owner has to be shown not to have spent time as a guest of a psychiatric facility.  And they might have to deal with waiting periods — which might mean you can’t buy a gun at Wal-Mart the day your wife tells you she’s leaving.  It might save some lives (a lot of completed suicides are impulsive, and guns are a very good way to kill yourself if you are real serious), but who cares about that?  It would require hunters to get their ducks in a row, metaphorically speaking, well before the season started, and that’s just too much trouble. Then there are restrictions on where you can carry your gun:  the idiot who carried his assault rifle into a grocery store to show he valued his Second Amendment right should be able to scare the crap out of anyone he wants.  Other people should just have to cope.

(And let’s not get into the intersection of guns and “stand your ground laws.”  That’s an entirely separate and potentially horrific kettle of fish.)

The Secret Service calls in anyone who says anything even vaguely threatening about the president.  Yet gun nuts have shown up at presidential rallies toting arms suited to going to war.  Guns pose a greater threat to the public at large than terrorists — yet what are we collectively worried about?

The NRA talks about the chilling effect that gun regulations has on their exercise of their Second Amendment rights. They ignore the fact that all Constitutional freedoms have had limits placed on them:  you can’t yell “fire in a crowded theater, for example, and according to the Supreme Court this year, the cops can have you forcibly removed from your home so they can ask someone else to authorize a search of the property without a warrant.

The zealots at the NRA do not care about the rest of us.  They don’t care how many kids kill themselves because guns are so easy to get.  People die in droves from guns every year, and the NRA fights every single effort to regulate them — no matter how minor the inconvenience it would cause, no matter how many lives it might save.

And now, a good candidate for the highest medical office in the land who recognizes a public health risk when he sees it will never get to hold that post.

I don’t know about any of you, but this has gotten very, very old.  I am trying not to wish the worst on the heads of the NRA, that their child might be killed by a gun, because I am a better person than that, but it’s hard.

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7 Responses to We’re being held hostage. At gunpoint.

  1. GSP says:

    So basically you’re saying only bankers, celebs, and politicians should have the right to self defense.

    • Pat Greene says:

      Not at all. Leaving aside the question of whether or not celebrities or politicians (not so sure about bankers) are more likely than the populace as a whole to be targeted by crazies, as far as I’m concerned the same rules should apply to them and their bodyguards, namely:

      1) Mandatory background checks. I do not want someone with a history of domestic violence arrests or who has been 5150d (California code for mandatory psychiatric holds) to be armed and at the side of a celebrity or a politician. (Not all politicians have armed bodyguards — look what happened to Gabby Giffords. Of course, after that incident, maybe more of them have armed bodyguards.) You can bet that members of the Secret Service are checked to a fare-thee-well; while I am not arguing by any means that all gun owners be subject to that level of scrutiny, a basic check of arrest records seems reasonable to me. (I also think there should be a confidential national registry of people who have been subject to legally mandated psychiatric holds, to prevent someone who has spent time in a psychiatric ward in California from going across the line to Nevada or Oregon and buying a gun to shoot themselves or someone else. This does not have to be forever: in California, psychiatric inpatients are prohibited from owning guns for five years, after which they can get a gun just like everybody else.)

      2) Waiting periods. If one of the Kardashians wants a bodyguard, they can very well hire someone who is already licensed or they can wait the seven days to get a gun like everybody else. Exceptions to this rule should only be allowed when a person can show a reasonable, credible, *imminent* threat, such as someone who has received a credible death threat from an ex-spouse.

      3) In an ideal world, which this is never going to be, gun owners — including and perhaps especially people who want to be professional bodyguards — should be forced to undergo the same level of training and testing that people do to drive. This does not need to take a lot of time, either. One of the requirements that the Rocket Scientist has to fulfill before doing field work in the Arctic is firearms training, covering basic safety, as well as how to shoot accurately. He has to show that he can hit his target accurately with both handguns and rifles (he puts the bear pictures with the bullet holes in them up in his office) before he is certified to go to the field. (He needs this because of the potential threat of polar bears.) It takes… two days.

      4) Restrictions on carrying weapons in a manner designed to instill fear in the general populace. The guy who walked into a market in Virginia with an assault rifle was not looking to defend himself.

      5) I understand the need for concealed weapons, but I want the authorities to be careful about whom they give permits to.

      6) A requirement for gun owners who have children under eighteen in their house on a regular basis to use gun locks or safes, to prevent kids getting into their guns and killing themselves or another person.

      7) Ideally, repeal “stand your ground” laws. As I said in the main post, this is another subject, but adding guns to the mix seems like a recipe for someone getting shot.

      Celebrities are more likely than most people to have crazy stalkers; both politicians and celebrities are more likely to get death threats. I can understand why they want guns. But I want them to obey the same rules as everybody else.

      As I pointed out, all the other rights in the Bill of Rights have been interpreted to have restrictions on them. Hell, the warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment have had so many exceptions allowed by the courts that it might as well not exist in a lot of circumstances. That’s not to go into the ways that the Fifth Amendment clause mandating that people be free from self-incrimination has been undermined. (Or the property rights also enshrined in the Fifth Amendment — Kelo v. New London, anyone?) What makes the Second Amendment so much more sacrosanct than those other, very very important rights?

      Note: I am avoiding the entire “personal” versus “militia” argument.

      • GSP says:

        Point 5 is ripe for abuse by the authorities. Such discretionary permit systems degenerate into being ones based on money and political connections.

        • Pat Greene says:

          Almost any regulatory scheme which relies on the discretion of authorities can degenerate into being based on money and political connections. We still have a lot of them around. (See: building permits.)

          Also, just out of curiosity, have you been following my blog? If not, how did you find this post?

          • GSP says:

            Then why do we need another one around a basic right? Blog showed up based on tags in wordpress.

          • Pat Greene says:

            Because it might help save lives? Also, property ownership is also a basic right (per the Fifth Amendment). There are a lot of discretionary regulatory schemes around property ownership.
            And in any case, the concealed carry issues may be the least significant problem. Background checks, mandatory waiting periods, requirements that people take gun safety training and use gun locks if they have kids all matter more to me than cracking down on concealed carry, even though I think it is important.

            And thanks for letting me know about the tags. Interesting. I need to use them more often.

  2. Pingback: The Wild Winds of Fortune

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