Johns Hopkins surgeon says US surgeon general’s declaration that gun violence is a public health crisis is ‘historic’

FILE - Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy speaks during an event on the White House complex in Washington, April 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)(AP/Susan Walsh)

The notion of treating gun violence as a public health issue is not new, but it’s got a much broader platform with the declaration by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy that the country is experiencing a public health crisis as a result.

Dr. Joseph Sakran is the executive vice chair of surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He’s also the chief medical officer for the Brady Campaign and is the survivor of a shooting when he was a teenager.

Sakran said the surgeon general’s declaration is “historic.” He likens it to the 1964 surgeon general’s report on smoking that changed public opinions on tobacco use.

Sarkan said when it came to changing habits and saving lives, the 1964 report “was critical.” He sees Murthy’s report as something “that is going to make a difference.”

While Joseph Richardson, University of Maryland’s MPower professor of African American studies and medical anthropology, believes the declaration on gun violence will add to the body of research on the topic, “I just think it’s a politically fraught issue, and I’m not sure with just this declaration how much impact that’s going to have.”

When asked about taking an approach with public campaigns like those used to get Americans to change their opinions and habits surrounding smoking and seat belt use, Richardson said, “Whether it’s seat belts or it’s smoking, they’re not written into the Constitution,” referring to the Second Amendment.

Richardson said the surgeon general’s declaration could be dismissed, especially in an election year, and especially “if it’s perceived as a form of gun control.”

The National Rifle Association (NRA) issued a reaction to the surgeon general’s declaration, posting on the social media platform X.

In the post, the executive director of the NRA’s lobbying arm, Randy Kozuch stated, “This is an extension of the Biden Administration’s war on law-abiding gun owners.”

Sakran remains optimistic about the potential for change by taking a public health approach.

“It’s easy to sometimes lose hope, but I’ll just remind you that over the past 10 years, there’s been 600 pieces of common-sense legislation that have been passed in cities and states across America,” he said.

Sakran added that there’s no single solution to gun violence, “and it’s important for people to remember that we’re not just dealing with numbers and statistics. These are brothers and sisters, they’re moms and dads.”

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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