US surgeon general declares gun violence a public health emergency

WASHINGTON — The US surgeon general on Tuesday declared gun violence a public health crisis, driven by the US terrorist threat rapidly growing number of injuries and deaths involving firearms in the country.

The advice from Dr. Vivek Murthy, the nation’s top doctor, came as the U.S. suffered another summer weekend marked by mass shootings that left dozens of people dead or injured.

“People want to be able to walk through their neighborhoods and be safe,” Murthy told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “America should be a place where we can all go to school, go to work, go to the grocery store, go to our house of worship, without fearing that our lives will be in danger.”

To reduce the number of gun deaths, Murthy calls on the US to ban it automatic riflesimplement universal background checks for gun purchases, regulate the industry, pass laws restricting their use in public spaces and punish people who fail to store their guns safely.

None of these suggestions can be implemented nationwide without legislation being passed by Congress, which is usually the case backlash in arms control measures. However, some state lawmakers have adopted or may be considering some of the surgeon general’s proposals.

Murthy said there is “broad agreement” that gun violence is a problem, citing a poll last year found that most Americans worried at least sometimes that a loved one could be injured by a gun. In 2022, more than 48,000 Americans died from gun injuries.

His advice promises to be controversial and is sure to outrage Republican lawmakers, most of whom opposed Murthy’s nomination to the job — twice — because of his statements on gun violence.

Murthy has issued warnings about troubling health trends in American life, including social media use loneliness. He has not issued similar advice on gun violence since 2014 confirmation while the surgeon general was stonewalled and nearly derailed by the gun lobby and Republicans who opposed his previous statements on firearms.

Murthy ultimately promised the Senate that he “had no intention of using my position as Surgeon General as a pulpit for gun control.”

Then-President Donald Trump fired Murthy in 2017, but President Joe Biden nominated Murthy again for the job in 2021. During his second confirmation hearing, he told senators that declaring guns a public health crisis would not be his focus during a new term.

But he has faced increasing pressure from some doctors and Democratic advocacy groups to speak out more. A group of four former surgeon generals asked the Biden administration to prepare a report on the problem in 2022.

“It is now time for us to take this issue out of the realm of politics and into the realm of public health, as we did with smoking more than half a century ago,” Murthy told the AP.

A 1964 report of the surgeon general raising awareness about the dangers of smoking is largely credited with reducing tobacco use and expediting regulations on the industry.

Children and younger Americans in particular suffer from gun violence, Murthy notes in his advisory entitled “Firearm Violence: A Public Health Crisis in America.” Firearm suicide rates have increased significantly in recent years among Americans under the age of 35. Children in the U.S. die from gun injuries at a much higher rate than children in other countries, according to the research he compiled.

In addition to new regulations, Murthy is calling for more research on gun violence and for the health care system — which will likely be more receptive to his advice — to promote gun safety education during doctor visits.