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Surgeon general’s gun violence declaration draws praise from Democrats, rage from GOP

The Department of Health and Human Services has formally designated firearm violence as a public health crisis in the United States.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Members of Congress were predictably split Tuesday on the U.S. surgeon general’s advisory that gun violence poses a threat to public health and that failing to address the issue amounts to a “moral crisis.”

While Democrats lauded Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s historic move to acknowledge that curbing the country’s significant number of firearms deaths is a matter of public health, Republicans accused the government’s top doctor of attempting to sidestep the constitutionally protected right to bear arms.

In an advisory published Tuesday morning by the Department of Health and Human Services, Murthy warned that “the increasing number of children and adolescents dying from firearm-related injuries and the reverberating mental health impacts on society make firearm violence an urgent public health crisis in America.”

According to research reviewed by the surgeon general’s office, roughly 37 out of every 1 million Americans between the ages of 1 and 19 were killed by firearms in 2019. That figure vastly outpaces international statistics — Canada, the country with the second most firearm deaths among young people, came in at just around six per million.

The rate of young people who have died by suicide using a firearm has also spiked 20% over the last decade or so, the surgeon general found.

And among the overall U.S. population, gun violence is the leading cause of death — topping car accidents, cancer and cardiovascular disease, the report added.

In a prerecorded video message accompanying his advisory, Murthy argued that beyond posing a physical threat to public safety, guns and gun violence have contributed to mental health challenges. He pointed to statistics that nearly 60% of U.S. adults are worried about a loved one being a victim.

“Our children should not have to live in fear that they are going to get shot if they go to school,” Murthy said. “None of us should have to worry that going to the mall, concert or house of worship means putting our lives at risk, or that we’ll get a call that a loved on in a moment of crisis has taken their own life with a firearm.”

The surgeon general’s advisory coincides with the two-year anniversary of the bipartisan Safer Communities Act, compromise gun control legislation signed into law in 2022 by President Biden — and Democrats on Capitol Hill used this new development to call for even more legislative action.

“The surgeon general’s advisory sounds the alarm on gun violence, a uniquely American crisis,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin in a statement Tuesday. “It’s evident that this is a preventable crisis — plain and simple.”

Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued that Americans are demanding that lawmakers do more to address gun violence, and called on Republicans to come to the table and pass additional legislation.

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who has been a leading Democratic voice for gun control measures, backed the surgeon general’s conclusion.

“The brain damage being done to kids by the constant exposure to the threat of violence is a public health danger,” he wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

But Republicans were incensed with Murthy, and framed Tuesday’s advisory as executive overreach.

North Carolina Representative Dan Bishop called the move “an end-run around the Constitution” to implement gun control measures.

“Absolutely not,” he added.

Some Republicans also argued that the surgeon general’s declaration walks back statements he made to GOP lawmakers during his 2021 confirmation process.

Indiana Senator Mike Braun trotted out a clip from Murthy’s confirmation hearing in which he asked whether the then-nominee for surgeon general believed that guns present a “public health emergency.”

Murthy replied at the time that “gun violence, like any other form of violence, is a concern to me as a doctor,” and added that the way the government should approach the issue “should be driven by science.”

The prospective surgeon general told Braun that his focus would be on other issues such as Covid-19, mental health and substance abuse.

But while Murthy did not explicitly say he would not eventually make a public health declaration on gun violence, the Indiana Republican appeared to frame the surgeon general’s Tuesday advisory as a departure from his earlier remarks.

Braun last year unveiled a bill that, if made law, would prohibit the Department of Health and Human Services from declaring a public health emergency to enact gun control measures. The legislation would also block the president or any cabinet official from blocking the manufacture or sale of guns or ammunition during an emergency.

The senator posed his measure as a check on Murthy’s advisory.

“Tell your senator you support my bill to stop this unconstitutional overreach,” Braun told voters on X.

The surgeon general’s advisory does not carry the force of law — the Health and Human Services Department instead describes it as “a public statement that calls the American people’s attention to an urgent public health issue.”

The report does, however, provide suggestions for a public health approach to preventing gun violence, such as expanding investments in firearms research and taking community-level action to address underlying socioeconomic issues that increase the risk of gun violence in historically marginalized communities.

Murthy’s advisory comes just days after the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling blocking domestic abusers from owning guns. The high court last week also struck down a federal ban on bump stock attachments for semiautomatic firearms.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). Visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.

Follow @BenjaminSWeiss
Categories / Government, Health, National, Politics

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