Why Did the NRA Fight Obama Over His Surgeon General Nomination?

David McNew/Getty Images

David McNew/Getty Images

President Barack Obama’s choice for Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, was just recently confirmed by the Senate, and he’s already successfully made a large group very angry. President Obama calls Murthy “America’s Doctor” and promises that he “makes us better positioned to save lives around the world and protect the American people here at home.” However, America’s Doctor has already successfully angered one of the biggest and most conservative interest groups in America: The National Rifle Association (NRA). Almost a year ago, Doctors for America, a gun-control organization of medical personnel and health support staff co-founded by Murthy addressed a somewhat inflammatory letter to members of Congress.

The letter was highly political in nature and spoke to the experience, interests, and unique perspectives of doctors who have seen the deadly effects of firearms and their policy recommendations stemming from these experiences. Many of the recommendations are familiar, basically the same sorts of precautions and controls suggested by other gun-control proponents, but with the added punch of medical metaphors and anecdotes like the one below:

Handguns killed all the children I saw as a Florida neurosurgeon, including a baby shot while on the scene of a drug deal gone sour, a drive by shooting of a top teenage athlete by envious neighbors and a 3-year-old shot by a seven-year-old with a gun left around a day care center — Dr. Philip Levitt, Florida.

In order to “cut gun-related deaths in half by 2020″ the letter suggests five efforts, legislative and administrative alike. These include removing certain types of guns from the market, universal background checks and waiting periods, research and data tracking into gun safety, as well as preventive studies. Interestingly, the letter described another policy change they hope to see that would allow doctors to speak about gun safety with patients. The NRA might arguably claim medical personnel, while specially informed in some areas, could be ill-educated or experienced in discussing firearms with objectivity. 

However, the argument that suicidal patients or family members may need advice about the risk of having a firearm in the home is quite convincing, as is the one demanding mental health advisory information, which needs to be more readily available and needs better funding. Lastly, the letter asks that a presidential advisory committee be created and include care providers in order to advise the executive and legislative branches on how to go about decreasing gun violence and the deaths that result.

Understandably, the NRA-ILA, the Institute of Legislative Action segment of the NRA, bit back this month after the nomination of Murthy. It could hardly be clearer that interests of the NRA and Murthy are in opposition. Said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA-ILA, “Mr. Murthy is not just a gun control supporter, he’s a gun control activist.” Whether this a problematic role for Murthy or not is up for debate, but it’s certainly one of the more calm and measured things the NRA-ILA had said about his nomination.

In a release made on December 12, 2014, the gun-rights group claimed President Obama is determined to “reinvigorate taxpayer-funded gun control propaganda,” and Cox has told the Senate that “confirmation of Dr. Murthy is a prescription for disaster for America’s gun owners.” While the Senate pushed him through, it’s clear not all members are pleased at his placement. “This will be the first surgeon general we have who thinks it’s his job to bash the Bill of Rights,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), according to Fox News. “I really don’t think we need a doctor, paid for by the government, who’s going to stand up and lecture us on the Bill of Rights and that he wants to limit the Second Amendment,” said Paul.On the one hand, it’s perfectly reasonable for Murthy to have been vocal about what he feels is a health-related topic of importance almost a full year ago. On the other hand, in light of his previous rhetoric, it’s understandable that NRA members and gun-rights advocates are cynical about his objectivity and are concerned he may make gun-control a pet project in the role of Surgeon General.

Murthy, for his part, has said that won’t be the case during his confirmation hearing, according to the Wall Street Journal. He said obesity would be his focus, and that it is “the defining public health issue of our time.” He also spoke on his views of gun-control, but said that he would not use his new job as a means to discuss those views. Given his history on the topic, which has been quite aggressive, it’s not surprising that the NRA — which is hardly the most trusting of groups — takes issue with Murthy’s ability to stay removed from his personal views.

More Politics Cheat Sheet:

Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS

Check out Politics Cheat Sheet on Facebook