This will be brief: I find it incredible, and deeply disheartening, that the confirmation of our next U.S. Surgeon General may come undone because Dr. Vivek Murthy has expressed his support for widely favored gun control measures, such as an assault weapons ban.
Now, before you start taking shots at me, let’s be clear: I am not writing about gun control today. I have done that before, and weathered the attendant barrage. Today, I am writing about bills, not bullets; dialogue, not Derringers.
The most ardent proponents of gun rights and the most impassioned advocates for gun control are obligated to come together and acknowledge the relevance of the Bill of Rights. Interpretations of the Second Amendment vary, but the fundamental relevance of the Bill of Rights and its amendments to the ineluctable aspects of being American do not. We are American. These are our rights.
So here’s my problem: On what basis do we invoke the Second Amendment to put bullet holes in the First? Dr. Murthy as Surgeon General would have no policy-making authority at all. No Surgeon General, not even the most activist, has had anything whatever to do with gun laws. The likelihood of any such thing is so remote as to be laughable. One Surgeon General was terminated because she used the word “masturbation” in a speech.
So what this really comes down to is the tolerance of our culture for the expression of opinions, or in other words, expression of our First Amendment rights. Dr. Murthy is a public health physician. Given the relevant epidemiology, that a public health physician would express support for curtailing the distribution of high-capacity, semi-automatic weapons is far from surprising. That he has the right to do so is codified in our Constitution, and perhaps it’s even relevant that it comes before, not after, the right to bear arms. Freedom of speech is the First Amendment.
We may differ or agree on what we think the Second Amendment means, or what we wish it meant, or what we prefer to do about it. But we are obligated to agree that the Second Amendment does not have primacy over the First. If political deference to the NRA is causing us to repudiate the expression of opinion unrelated to policy, then we are allowing the Second Amendment to put bullet holes in the First. And wherever we stand on gun control, that redounds to our collective shame.
David L. Katz, MD, FACP, MPH, FACPM, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care. He is a board certified specialist in both Internal Medicine, and Preventive Medicine/Public Health, and Associate Professor (adjunct) in Public Health Practice at the Yale University School of Medicine. He is the Director and founder (1998) of Yale University's Prevention Research Center; Director and founder of the Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital (2000) in Derby, Conn.; founder and president of the non-profit Turn the Tide Foundation; and formerly the Director of Medical Studies in Public Health at the Yale School of Medicine for eight years. This post originally appeared on his blog at The Huffington Post.