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Surgeon General Declares U.S. Gun Violence a Public Health Crisis

Gun groups like the NRA and NSSF immediately blasted the U.S. surgeon general’s advisory

On Tuesday, the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued a landmark advisory declaring that gun violence in the United States is a public health crisis. The advisory — the first from the Office of the Surgeon General to focus exclusively on gun violence — is a “public statement that calls the American people’s attention to an urgent public health issue” requiring “the nation’s immediate awareness and action.”

Previous surgeon general advisories and reports helped curb cigarette smoking and brought awareness to HIV, suicide, and mental health crises. Dr. Murthy also issued an advisory in May 2023 warning that social media platforms may harm children and teens’ mental health.

addressing gun violence

The “Firearm Violence” advisory offers several data points to highlight the epidemic of gun violence in the United States, including the fact that guns have been the leading cause of death for children and adolescents since 2020, and that the “rate of firearm-related deaths in our nation has been rising and reached a near three-decade high in 2021.” According to the advisory, “54% of U.S. adults report that they, or a family member, have experienced a firearm-related incident.” Such incidents include being threatened or injured with a firearm, having a family member killed by a gun, or witnessing someone being shot.

As the Office of the Surgeon General has done in the past with public health crises like smoking, the advisory offers several recommendations to “curb the alarming trends of firearm-related injury and death in America,” including more funding for research, data collection, and community violence intervention programs as well as legislation implementing extreme-risk protection orders, requiring background checks on all gun sales, and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, among others.

The advisory also recommends treating firearms “like other consumer products,” noting that “there are no federal standards or regulations regarding the safety of firearms produced in the U.S. Therefore, firearms manufactured and sold in the U.S. may not undergo safety testing or include safety features like warning labels related to associated risk or authorized‑use technology (‘smart’ firearm technology) for firearm access.” To learn more about firearm recalls, click here.

backlash from the gun lobby

The National Rifle Association immediately called the advisory “an extension of the Biden Administration’s war on law-abiding gun owners. America has a crime problem caused by criminals. The reluctance to prosecute and punish criminals on the part of President Biden and many of his allies is the primary cause of that. That’s a simple fact.”

Similarly, Joe Bartozzi, the president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the gun industry’s trade association, said, “Surgeon General Murthy has a history of conflating health care with criminal law enforcement. The two roles are different and as much as he’d like to say lawful gun ownership is tantamount to a public health crisis, the truth is — it isn’t. The criminal misuse of firearms is a law enforcement issue.” Bartozzi also called the advisory “nothing short of election-year politicking masquerading in a white lab coat.”

Bartozzi did not discuss how the firearm supply chain ends up arming criminals, particularly with gun dealers who sell guns to traffickers or straw purchasers, or fail to secure their inventories. The NSSF has also lobbied against laws that would require gun owners, and even gun shops, to secure their firearms to prevent their misuse. Bartozzi’s claims also do not explain the country’s high number of firearm suicides, accounting for over 27,000 deaths in 2022 alone, as mentioned in the advisory.

Finally, Bartozzi reminded readers that the NSSF opposed the surgeon general’s nominations in both 2014 and 2021 — a notion echoed by other another group sponsored by gun makers, Gun Owners of America, which tweeted that it had “warned the U.S. Senate that Vivek Murthy would abuse his public health authority as @Surgeon_General to advance gun control.”

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