Littwin: Ted Nugent for surgeon general |

Littwin: Ted Nugent for surgeon general

Is it dangerous to have a gun in a house where there are small children?

Or is the real danger in simply posing the question?

I think you know the answer. And if you don’t, just ask your friends at the National Rifle Association, who apparently have put the kibosh on Barack Obama’s nominee for surgeon general because, well, he seems to have thought it might be a question worth examining.

I don’t know if you saw the news, because there’s a lot of big news out there just now. There’s the airplane that mysteriously disappeared. There’s the Crimean slice of Ukraine that also, if not so mysteriously, disappeared.

So, losing a surgeon general nominee wouldn’t seem to be that big a deal. I mean, what does the guy really do, anyway, other than putting those cancer warnings on packs of cigarettes? And the thing is, you can always find another one.

But in this case, it actually is a big deal. Because Vivek Murthy, by most accounts a young and brilliant doctor, wasn’t lost to scandal or even to the usual Washington intransigence. He was doomed because the NRA wanted to shut him up. This is not a new concept, by the way. There are states that, with the help of the NRA, have passed laws forbidding doctors to discuss gun safety with their patients because, you know, Second Amendment. That’s the same reason that federal funds for research on gun violence were frozen for a few decades.

One of the funniest pro-gun slogans is that the Second Amendment is there to protect the First Amendment. Seriously, if you break that down, it’s basically crazy talk. But what the NRA apparently fears is that the surgeon general, who can’t really do anything about guns, or much else, will talk about it. That’s it, even though Murthy, in a Senate hearing, said he would not use the job as “bully pulpit” on gun control. He said he was looking to work on obesity. Or is that too dangerous to discuss, too?

As president of a group called Doctors for America (which, yes, began as an Obama election group called Doctors for Obama), Murthy got this whole thing started by writing to Congress, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, to say that gun violence was a public-health issue. That is, of course, not exactly controversial. It’s right in line with virtually every other medical association’s view — and is right in line with the fact that 30,000 or so people die every year from firearm-related injuries. Would 20,000 gun-related suicides be a public-health issue? Would the fact that firearm-related injuries are the second-most common cause of death for young people be a public-health issue? How about the fact that gun-related homicides are the leading cause of death among African-American males ages 15 to 24?

And because Murthy is in favor of universal background checks and banning assault weapons — just as, according to the polls, most Americans are — the NRA has called him “radically anti-gun” and a danger to all right-thinking people, and also Ted Nugent.

That was enough to scare a bunch of worried Democratic senators who are already on shaky ground as we head toward the midterms. The New York Times reported that as many as 10 Democratic senators could be wavering. And, of course, virtually every Republican would vote against Murthy because virtually all Republicans vote against every Obama nominee. (Fun fact that I read somewhere: George W. Bush’s surgeon general, Richard Carmona, was approved 98-0 in 2002. Glory days.)

And now, looking at another setback, the Obama administration is talking about “recalibrating” its strategy on Murthy, which most people take to mean that his nomination will never actually come to a vote.

It is often said — by liberals in safe districts and by pundits who don’t have to run for anything — that the NRA influence in elections is vastly overrated. But then there were the Colorado recalls, which were actually the work of Dudley Brown and the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, but the point was made.

Or was it?

Yes, it was made in a few tightly focused special elections. But how is 2014 turning out so far for those who insisted the Democrats and John Hickenlooper overreached with their modest gun laws last year? Could it be that no one’s guns are being grabbed? That no one really misses Magpul — or have they gone yet?

Maybe you remember the Republican strategy early in the legislative session — to force Democrats to vote down attempts at repealing these laws. The Democrats did vote them down, and with hardly a whisper of public discontent. The pro-repeal groups could barely muster a crowd at the Statehouse. For Republicans, it was an embarrassing flop and maybe a message, too.

According to the recent polling, Hickenlooper doesn’t seem quite so vulnerable anymore. He is leading each of his Republican would-be rivals by at least 10 points.

Now, we’re left with this question: If Hickenlooper is, in fact, re-elected, what would that say about the modest gun laws?

Or shouldn’t we ask?

Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for

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