Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who was sworn in this week after a long confirmation battle over his stance on gun control, issued his first remarks on the issue during an interview with NPR that aired Saturday.
Murthy became a polarizing figure after President Obama nominated him for surgeon general in 2013. Gun rights groups took issue with his public stance on guns and pressured lawmakers to vote against his confirmation.
One controversial tweet Murthy sent in 2012 read: “Tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of [National Rifle Association]. Guns are a health care issue.”
But Murthy, the founder of the nonprofit group Doctors for America (formerly Doctors for Obama), was finally confirmed in a lame-duck 51-43 vote in December, much to the pleasure of gun control groups.
During his interview with NPR, Murthy was asked what he meant by his tweet and what his plans are regarding gun control as surgeon general.
“Here’s what I meant when I wrote that tweet,” Murthy began. “Violence of all kinds is a public health issue. When you have large numbers of people dying from preventable causes, that’s a health care issue. That’s a public health issue.”
“I want to find a way that we can reduce violence in America, and I think you would be hard-pressed to find parents or families of victims, or health care practitioners who would disagree.”
Murthy was asked whether he thinks more gun control is part of this response. During Senate hearings early last year, Murthy said “I do not intend to use the surgeon general’s office as a bully pulpit for gun control.”
During his interview with NPR, Murthy evaded the question of whether his focus on guns as a public health issue will lead to more gun control.
“What I’m calling for is more common sense,” Murthy said.
“We may see various issues around violence as highly politicized because of how they’re covered or how they’re spoken about in public settings. These problems that we face are not problems that one party or one sector can solve on their own.”
Whether or not Murthy plans to ramp up gun control measures while in office, his supporters expressed joy after he was sworn in on Wednesday.
“A big step for common sense: Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy was sworn in just a few minutes ago!” former Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, wrote on social media on Wednesday, the website Guns.com noted.
“The gun lobby fought hard against his nomination – all because he’d said gun violence is a ‘health care issue.’ With your help, we went toe-to-toe with the gun lobby, and we won. Now, we have a Surgeon General who recognizes what the data makes quite clear: gun violence is a threat to public health,” the post continued.