It was back in 1996 that Congressman Jay Dickey (R-AR) inserted language into the 1997 budget that prohibited gun research funded by the CDC. And from that time forward, physicians and public health researchers have been a favorite target of the NRA. The most public example of this attempt to demonize the notion that guns constitute a health risk is, of course, the Florida law (“Docs versus Glocks”) which potentially criminalizes physicians who ask patients about guns. Yet another instance in which gun “rights” were used to distort the role and value of physicians was the successful attempt by Rand Paul, the self-certified opthalmologist from Kentucky, to block or at least temporarily derail the appointment of Vivek Murthy to be head of the CDC.
Rand’s opposition to Murthy’s nomination was nothing except an attempt to pander to a receptive audience, i.e., hard-core NRA members and other right-wing folks, whose support he will surely need if and when he announces a bid for the White House in 2016. I actually have no issue with Paul or any other political candidate saying whatever has to be said to get his ducks lined up in the water in order to try and latch onto the gold ring. But when Rand politicizes the importance and value of public health as regards guns or anything else, he’s stepped across a line that ordinarily demarcates stupidity from common sense.
Last week the first case of someone infected with Ebola was confirmed. It turned out to be a man who came into contact with an Ebola patient in his native country of Liberia shortly before coming to the United States. And while he evidently told hospital staff in Texas that he had recently been in an infected zone, the hospital in Dallas mistakenly released him back into the general population and God knows how many individuals may have come into contact with this poor guy before he was properly diagnosed.
The challenge now facing Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital is to identify every person with whom this patient may have had contact, get them isolated and tested and hope that the disease hasn’t spread. But I’ll tell you this: If there’s even the slightest hint that the Ebola virus might appear in Dallas or elsewhere, guess which agency the entire American population will expect to step in? It won’t be the NRA, that’s for sure. Despite the fact that the penultimate guardians of the 2nd Amendment, along with Rand Paul, claim to know what doctors should and shouldn’t do, the burden of dealing with Ebola will fall right where it should – on public health researchers and the CDC.
I’m not saying that gun violence is as much a threat to public health as Ebola. In roughly a month, the WHO estimates that the “epidemic” has killed more than 3,000 people in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Representatives from more than twenty countries are now meeting in London to figure out how to get more medical aid and resources to contain the deadly spread. In Sierra Leone there are five new cases reported every hour of every day.
Hey, wait a minute. The Ebola mortality rate is estimated at 50%, which means that 30 people will die each day from the virus in Sierra Leone, which is about one-third of all the cases that are being reported throughout West Africa at this time. Do the arithmetic, as Bill Clinton said, and this adds up to 30,000+ Ebola victims in West Africa over a full year. Isn’t that roughly the same number of people who die from gun violence each year in the United States?
But let’s not forget that the CDC isn’t allowed to figure out what to do about gun violence and if it were up to the NRA, every state would follow Florida’s lead in gagging doctors who want to talk to their patients about guns. If 30,000 Ebola deaths in Africa constitutes an epidemic, what do you call 30,000 gun deaths which have occurred every year in America for the past twenty years?