Editorial:  Why NRA opposition shouldn’t doom Obama’s surgeon general nominee

President Obama's surgeon-general nominee Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy -- seen here last month before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee -- faces stiff opposition by the National Rifle Assn.
(Charles Dharapak / Associated Press)

The National Rifle Assn. has a problem with Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, President Obama’s nominee for surgeon general, but it has nothing to do with Murthy’s medical expertise. It’s that Murthy thinks gun control is smart public health policy. Unfortunately, too many members of the Senate share the gun lobby’s skewed view of the world, much to the detriment of the country and, it seems, to Murthy’s chances of being confirmed.

Murthy, an outspoken Obama supporter since before the 2008 election, earned an undergraduate degree at Harvard, an MBA from the Yale School of Management and a medical degree from the Yale School of Medicine; he teaches medicine at Harvard and is an attending physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston; he’s served on a federal medical advisory board and is involved in medical nonprofit groups, all according to the White House. Whether that qualifies Murthy to be surgeon general is a legitimate question for the Senate in its constitutional role of giving advice and consent to presidential nominations.

But Murthy’s belief that guns, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention links to more than 30,000 deaths a year, are a public health issue should not be the litmus test for whether he is qualified to be the nation’s top public health advocate.


The debate over Murthy comes at a low point for Senate Democrats, who this month failed to confirm Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division because he performed his duties as one of a number of lawyers representing convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal on appeal. Police groups opposed the appointment, and ultimately, so did enough Democratic senators to block it. To reject a nominee for the nation’s top civil rights post because he represented an unpopular client and earned the enmity of law enforcement offers a fresh definition of ludicrous.

Now Murthy faces a serious risk of being rejected as surgeon general, apparently because a handful of Democratic senators in pro-gun states fear upsetting the NRA in an election year. During his confirmation hearing last month, Murthy testified that he came to support gun control through “my experience as a physician, seeing patients in emergency rooms who have come in with acute injuries, but also seeing many patients over the years who are dealing with spinal cord injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and other chronic complications from gun violence.” But Murthy also promised the senators that he would not make gun control his top priority and would focus his public education efforts on obesity.

If Murthy is rejected, or if he is confirmed but then censors himself on this important issue of public health, we can chalk up another win to the irresponsible and far too powerful gun lobby.