Guns are a public health issue; even kids know that

April 2

This much is true: The vast majority of adults want to keep kids safe.

In fact, for many parents, keeping our kids safe becomes a decades-long obsession. Car seats and baby monitors; helmets and training wheels; stranger danger discussions, driving lessons and alcohol lectures.

And yet what scares parents most is what we can’t possibly protect our children from: the random, inexplicable act of fate. Giving them a kiss on the cheek in the morning and not having them come home that night. Columbine. Sandy Hook. Aurora. Columbia mall.

We are caring adults, trying to keep the kids safe from the tiny minority who can wreak so much havoc and heartache. So parents, educators, law-enforcement officials have zero-tolerance policies for bullying words and actions. We want kids to understand how one seemingly small act can snowball into other worse acts.

And so we do things like suspend kids for pointing their fingers in the shape of a gun or for bringing Nerf guns to school for a class project.

Although some would say that school boards have been coerced into such policies to protect themselves from lawsuits in the event of the unspeakable, I think the reality is that these rules come from a fundamentally good place: We want to keep children safe.

But as any parent knows, kids have a laser-focused radar for hypocrisy.

“How come I have to go to bed if you get to stay up late?”

“You had chips with your sandwich, so why do I have to eat carrots?”

So we had better hope that those kids into whom we are hammering the message — that guns are bad for you/guns are dangerous/you shouldn’t use anything resembling a gun as a threat — don’t hear about the current debate over who should be our next surgeon general.

Vivek Murthy, a Yale-educated physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, is President Obama’s nominee to become the next surgeon general. The job of surgeons general is to be the nation’s spokesmen on issues of public health. They warn us about the dangers of obesity, smoking, drug use.

And sometimes they stir up controversy. Jocelyn Elders, who was Bill Clinton’s surgeon general, generated outrage when she discussed contraception distribution in high schools and drug legalization.

Today, Murthy may never get to be surgeon general because of this tweet:

“Tired of politicians playing politics w/ guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of NRA. Guns are a health care issue.”

(The facts: The Centers for Disease Control reported 31,672 deaths from firearms in 2010; that’s way behind the 600,000 people who died of heart disease, but not so far behind the 51,000 who died of pneumonia.)

When news of that 2012 tweet came to light, Republicans — and Democrats in tight reelection fights — lined up in opposition to Murthy’s nomination. And so the White House has put off a push for Murthy’s confirmation.

I can just hear it now.

“Mom, why can one part of the government not let me go to school for pretending to have a gun and another part of the government not let a guy have a job for saying that people dying from real guns is a problem?”

That’s a fine question. It’s one that all of us adults — who really do just want our kids to be safe — need to be able to answer honestly.

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