In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: Gun lobby sets sights on surgeon general nominee

Well, we’ve done it. The Miami Herald exposed Vivek Murthy’s “radical anti-gun agenda” and pretty well ruined his chances for confirmation as the next U.S. surgeon general.

We were so very prescient, sabotaging his career back on June 9, 1994, when we gave Murthy a platform for his anti-gun blasphemy and published his quote about “society’s preoccupation with firearms and brutal methods of conflict resolution.”

Two decades later, Murthy’s comments in the Herald have been dredged up and published in an op-ed by David Martosko, the former executive editor of the very right-wing Daily Caller, providing crucial ammo in the gun lobby’s assault on his nomination.

To be fair to Murthy, at the time he uttered his sacrilege it was not yet considered impermissible for a physician to worry aloud about gun violence. Another 17 years would pass before the Florida Legislature passed Docs Versus Glocks, the gag law prohibiting doctors from asking patients about gun ownership.

In fact, in 1994 Murthy was not yet a physician. Only 16 at the time, he was among a number of local high school valedictorians whose opinions we had solicited about the “growing problem of kids and violence.” You need to understand the times. In 1994, discussions of gun violence carnage were not yet seen as unpatriotic attacks on the Second Amendment rights of disaffected rednecks.

Vivek, the youngest valedictorian in the county after registering a 6.09 grade point average at Miami Palmetto High School, a Silver Knight honoree, on his way to Harvard, spewed his subversive thoughts across the news pages of the Herald: “Today, a typical elementary student wakes up on Saturday mornings to fiery gun battles, explosive scenes of terror and the violent decimation of the ‘bad guy’ — all this in a children’s cartoon. With such destructive influence, society's preoccupation with firearms and brutal methods of conflict resolution is no surprise.”

Of course, someone like that can’t be allowed to serve as U.S. surgeon general.

He’s done. “He will go down,” promised Sen. Marco Rubio, who graduated from South Miami High School with a 2.1 GPA (good enough, by the way, to get him into Sante Fe Community College). Rubio predicted Murthy’s demise in an interview with Emily Miller of the Washington Times ( Shooting Straight With Emily Miller), in which he also discussed his ownership of a beloved Taurus .357 Magnum. In Washington nowadays, a Taurus .357 Magnum is as necessary a political totem as an American flag lapel pin or a photo op with Ted Nugent.

The gun lobby has accumulated other incriminating evidence against the kid from Palmetto High. He damned himself last year with his own Twitter account, after the Newtown gun massacre, when he mistakenly assumed that the massacre of 20 little children and seven adults might have some affect on American politics. He dared to tweet, “we got 20 votes in the senate in favor of gun violence legislation that we wouldn’t have had 1 year ago. Have faith.” And, “Docs fired up to keep fighting for gun safety laws.”

Worse, he signed a petition begging Congress to adopt “common sense gun rules like background checks and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as a comprehensive plan to address gun violence including ensuring funding for research and data-collection on gun violence.”

Nothing riles the NRA like the prospect of research and data-collection on gun violence. For obvious reasons. Because patriotic Americans would rather not know.

Nor can the gun lobby abide doctors who think that 30,000 American lives lost each year to bullets qualifies as some kind of public health issue. Murthy went even further. He called it a “public health crisis of the highest order.”

The New England Journal of Medicine summarized his sins in one short sentence. “He has advocated reasonable and mainstream forms of gun regulation.”

That did it.

The NRA wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warning that, “Dr. Murthy’s record of political activism in support of radical gun control measures raises significant concerns about his ability to objectively examine issues pertinent to America’s 100 million firearm owners and the likelihood that he would use the office of the Surgeon General to further his pre-existing campaign against gun ownership.”

And wasn’t that a mouthful.

The Gun Owners of America called him an “anti-gun crazy.” Murthy offended that group by suggesting repeal of laws that bar the federal government from funding research on gun violence. He also opposes, along with virtually every professional medical association in the nation, including the AMA, Florida’s Docs Versus Glocks law, which forbids physicians from discussing gun safety with their patients, even pediatricians who might be dealing with a suicidal adolescent.

All that stuff sounds like fanaticism to the Gun Owner of America. “Make no mistake about it: Murthy is an anti-gun fanatic. Not only that, as Surgeon General Murthy could channel huge amounts of taxpayer dollars to ‘junk science studies’ intended to prove that guns should be banned.”

Larry Pratt, director of the Gun Owners of America, compared Murthy to Nazi and Soviet doctors who, in his version of history, served as government informants on their patients and declared that the nominee has “no understanding of medical ethics.”

Not that a surgeon general has any power to do anything about gun violence, other than warning us that bullets may be hazardous to the public health. Besides, Murthy promised senators at his confirmation hearing that, “I do not intend to use my office as surgeon general as a bully pulpit on gun control.”

But the NRA and Larry Pratt have said no. That’s all it takes in Washington to kill a nomination. So Sen. Rubio, perhaps as he caressed his Taurus .357 Magnum, has declared Murthy a goner.

One might have thought Rubio, however bound to the gun lobby, would have been a bit more sympathetic to a fellow Miami-Dade County high school grad with such a similar background. Both were raised in Miami by immigrant parents, who, as each man has pointed out, came to the U.S. with little money. There was a familiar ring to Cuban Americans like Rubio when the doctor described his grandfather as a “poor farmer who fought for democracy and freedom in India.”

Of course, Murthy’s résumé varied a bit from Rubio’s. After graduating from high school, the Palmetto grad went on to receive a BA from Harvard University, an MBA from the Yale School of Management, and a medical degree from the Yale School of Medicine.

When Murthy was just 18, he co-founded VISIONS Worldwide, a nonprofit group focused on HIV/AIDS education in India and the U.S. (He served as president of Visions until 2000 and was chairman of the board from 2000 to 2003). He also co-founded Swasthya, a community health partnership in rural India.

Murthy has published research on staphylococcal infections in the journal Science, and has had scholarly papers on cancer research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. He also founded TrialNetworks, a cloud-based venture that allows researchers access to disparate pharmaceutical and biotechnology studies. Oh yes, Murthy, just 36, is an attending physician with Boston’s Brigham and Women's Hospital and teaches at Harvard Medical School.

The résumé hardly matters. Nor did it matter that Murthy promised that, if confirmed, he wouldn’t much bother with guns. His emphasis, he said, would be to educate “the public with scientifically-based information on issues such as obesity, diet, physical activity and tobacco cessation.”

Of course, up in Washington, that makes Dr. Murthy sound like just another crazy anti-fat, anti-cigarette, anti-sitting-around-and-doing-nothing radical. Who the hell does he think he is, putting Americans’ health above politics?

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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