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Surgeon General's authority over gun policy is beside the point

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Last Tuesday, this column posited that if the appointment of virulently anti-gun Dr. Vivek Murthy has indeed been averted, we should know just whom to thank. Obviously, we still cannot know if his inability to be confirmed will be permanent. One hypothesis is that Senate Democrat leadership will be ready to make an aggressive push for his confirmation in November, after the mid-term elections, because vulnerable "red state" Democrats will by then be safe for another six years (or, perhaps more likely, will have been voted out of office, with a couple months of lame duck time to kill). Either way, without the need to garner votes any time soon, they would be free to vote according to their own agendas, rather than their constituents' will. That, anti-gunners know, is the time to strike.

The NRA's decision to influence senators through their announced intention to "score" a "Yes" vote for Murthy's confirmation has, not surprisingly, drawn a great deal of criticism in the mass media, much of which is centered on the assertion that the office of the Surgeon General has no authority over gun policy, so gun rights advocates should not care about a gun ban extremist holding that position.

Paul M. Barrett, for example, writing for Bloomberg Businessweek, describes the NRA's position as "ludicrous," in part because of the Surgeon General's lack of authority over gun policy:

But the surgeon general doesn’t play a significant role in crafting gun policy. It seems preposterous that Murthy’s attitudes toward guns—views roughly similar to those of the twice-elected president—may preclude him from federal office. It would be no less silly if abortion-rights advocates killed a Republican nomination of a distinguished four-star general to be chairman of the Pentagon’s joint chiefs of staff based solely on his opposition to abortion.

Likewise, Daniel Rothberg, writing for the McClatchy/Tribune, criticizes the NRA for "mov[ing] to new arena":

In recent years, the National Rifle Association has stepped into fights over judicial nominees it views as weak on Second Amendment rights, but its decision to oppose a surgeon general nominee takes the powerful lobby into new territory, expanding its campaign to a post that has no direct power to regulate guns.

The point being (deliberately?) missed here is that the Surgeon General speaks with the federal government's voice on health issues (and even on what are dubiously claimed to be "health issues"). Even without direct power to set policy, the Surgeon General is presumably thought to have some influence, else why have the position at all?

The next time Congress debates a proposed new gun law, how likely is it that an anti-gun lawmaker will not try to bolster his or her position by citing the Surgeon General's expressed support for the newest infringement on that which shall not be infringed?

The Surgeon General, being recognized as an authority on the subject of health matters, also has influence over public perception. Forcible citizen disarmament advocates within the government have for decades pushed junk "science" to justify new attacks on private gun ownership.

Murthy's nomination must be examined in that light, else why would his confirmation be so vitally important to the gun ban zealots? Opposition to his confirmation is therefore a logical course of action for the NRA--no less so than support for it is logical for "gun control" advocates.

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