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Pentagon nominee accidentally tells the truth about gun policy

Trump's choice to serve as the Pentagon's top health official believes Americans' access to assault rifles is "insane."
This July 26, 2012 file photo shows an AR-15 style rifle. (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)
This July 26, 2012 file photo shows an AR-15 style rifle.

Dr. Dean Winslow, Donald Trump's choice to serve as the Pentagon's top health official, was on Capitol Hill yesterday for his confirmation hearing, and as Politico reported, it turned out to be a little more interesting than expected.

The most provocative exchange came when the discussion turned to Devin Patrick Kelley, who's believed to be responsible for Sunday's mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked if Winslow believes service members who are convicted of domestic violence charges should be dishonorably discharged.

"I'd also like to -- and I may get in trouble with other members of the committee -- just say, you know, how insane it is that in the United States of America a civilian can go out and buy ... a semi-automatic assault rifle like an AR-15, which apparently was the weapon that was used," Dean Winslow, a physician and retired Air Force colonel nominated to be the assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs, said during his Senate Armed Services confirmation hearing.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) quickly interjected, "Dr. Winslow, I don't think that's in your area of responsibility or expertise."

I suppose there's some truth to that, though Winslow is an experienced medical professional with an opinion.

As it turns out, of course, that opinion is deeply at odds with the beliefs of the president who nominated him for this Pentagon post. Donald Trump, for example, responded to the massacre in a Texas church by saying this "isn't a guns situation."

At this point, I haven't seen any evidence that Winslow's nomination is now in doubt as a result of his moment of candor, though it's not difficult to imagine Trump's far-right allies in the NRA and elsewhere raising concerns following yesterday's hearing.

In theory, the assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs doesn't have any role in shaping gun policy, so it shouldn't necessarily matter what Winslow believes about American consumers' access to semi-automatic assault rifles, but recent history suggests that doesn't matter: Senate Republicans delayed President Obama's pick for surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, for more than a year because he had the audacity to describe gun violence as a public-health issue.

The fact that the surgeon general doesn't have a vote in crafting gun policy was deemed irrelevant.