Surgeon General: Gun Violence Is a Public Health Emergency

Vivek Murthy's official advisory is likely to be controversial
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 25, 2024 6:33 AM CDT
Surgeon General: Gun Violence Is a Public Health Emergency
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaks in New York City on Oct. 10, 2023.   (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey, File)

The US surgeon general on Tuesday declared gun violence a public health crisis, driven by the fast-growing number of injuries and deaths involving firearms in the country. The advisory issued by Dr. Vivek Murthy, the nation's top doctor, came as the US grappled with another summer weekend marked by mass shootings that left dozens of people dead or wounded. "People want to be able to walk through their neighborhoods and be safe," Murthy told the AP in a phone interview. "America should be a place where all of us can go to school, go to work, go to the supermarket, go to our house of worship, without having to worry that that's going to put our life at risk."

To drive down gun deaths, Murthy calls on the US to ban automatic rifles, introduce universal background checks for purchasing guns, regulate the industry, pass laws that would restrict their use in public spaces, and penalize people who fail to safely store their weapons. None of those suggestions can be implemented nationwide without legislation passed by Congress, which typically recoils at gun control measures. Some state legislatures, however, have enacted or may consider some of the surgeon general's proposals. Murthy said there's "broad agreement" that gun violence is a problem, citing a poll last year that found most Americans worry at least sometimes that a loved one might be injured by a firearm. More than 48,000 Americans died from gun injuries in 2022.

Murthy's advisory promises to be controversial and will certainly incense Republican lawmakers, most of whom opposed Murthy's confirmation—twice—to the job over his statements on gun violence. But he has faced mounting pressure from some doctors and Democratic advocacy groups to speak out more. A group of four former surgeon generals asked the Biden administration to produce a report on the problem in 2022. "It is now time for us to take this issue out of the realm of politics and put it in the realm of public health, the way we did with smoking more than a half-century ago," Murthy said. A 1964 report from the surgeon general that raised awareness about the dangers of smoking is largely credited with snubbing out tobacco use and precipitating regulations on the industry.

(More gun violence stories.)

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