Point-Counterpoint: Surgeon general nominee lets bias cloud his thinking on guns

Gun ownership isn't a disease. It's a constitutional right.

Calling crime a disease sounds like the stuff of a bad Sylvester Stallone movie, but it's closer to reality than people might think. Criminologists often speak the language of "epidemiology" -- a medical science that looks at the occurrence, spread and possible control of disease.

But to describe guns and gun ownership as a "health care issue" isn't science or medicine. It's simply politics.

Traditionally, authorities respond "public health threats" through quarantines and other measures designed to contain the problem. If guns were a threat to public health, what would quarantine look like? Something like a ban, most likely.

Vivek Murthy's credentials as a physician are certainly impressive: admitted to Harvard at 16, graduate of Yale medical school, founder of a nonprofit focused on AIDS research and treatment, Harvard med school professor.

But when it comes to politics and public policy, Dr. Murthy's ideas aren't especially different from those of a garden-variety liberal newspaper columnist -- or most Harvard professors, come to think of it.

President Obama's nomination of Murthy as Surgeon General follows his 2013 executive order empowering the Centers for Disease Control to resume its controversial research on guns and violence.

But Congress cut the CDC's gun research budget nearly 20 years ago for good reason. Researchers were engaged in what could be charitably described as "political science." The CDC's former director of gun research once told the Washington Post his goal was to foster a public perception of guns as "dirty, deadly -- and banned."

"Government-funded gun research was openly biased in the 1990s," explained Dr. Timothy Wheeler, a retired surgeon and director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of the Second Amendment Foundation.

Researchers, Wheeler wrote last year at National Review Online, "unabashedly supported gun bans, used CDC funds to advocate strict gun control, and poured millions of taxpayer dollars into funding 'research' that was in fact advocacy -- thinly disguised medical-journal hit pieces against gun ownership."

Murthy is very much of that tradition, masking political advocacy as straightforward public health advice. As Surgeon General, Murthy would be overseeing the CDC. He may be a good and compassionate doctor, but he shouldn't be directing public policy.

Ben Boychuk