As It Happens

Retired U.S. colonel stands by gun control comments that cost him a Senate confirmation

Dean L. Winslow, retired U.S. air force colonel and flight surgeon, had his Senate confirmation put on hold after he said civilians shouldn't be able to buy assault rifles.
Dean L. Winslow, a retired U.S. air force colonel and flight surgeon, withdrew his name for consideration for U.S. assistant secretary of defence for health affairs after his confirmation was put on indefinite hold over his stance on gun control. (Submitted by Dean L. Winslow)

Story transcript

A retired U.S. air force colonel and flight surgeon says he doesn't regret speaking out about gun control, even though it cost him his dream job. 

Dean L. Winslow withdrew his name for consideration for U.S. assistant secretary of defence for health affairs after his confirmation was put on indefinite hold over his controversial remarks.

At his Senate hearing the day after a mass shooting at a church in Sunderland Springs, Texas, Winslow called it "insane" that U.S. citizens can buy semi-automatic weapons.

Republican Sen. John McCain quickly interrupted, warning the doctor that gun control is outside his "area of responsibility or expertise."

Winslow, who has since written about experience for the Washington Post, spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about why he stands by what he said. Here is part of that conversation.

Had you gone into that hearing thinking about [the shooting] or intending to say anything along the line of what you said?

I literally found out about the shooting when I got off the plane at Washington Dulles Airport — and it was, of course, quite a shock.

There was such a tremendous loss of innocent lives and it seemed particularly obscene to me that it occurred in a house of worship.

What do you make of the interjection by Sen. McCain?

I have the greatest respect for Sen. McCain and I was actually quite surprised that he felt so strongly that I should not comment.

The job, assistant secretary of defence for health care, has actually no responsibility for civilian gun control. That's really not, as he correctly states, in my area of responsibility.

However, I was being asked directly by [Democratic] Sen. [Jeanne] Shaheen what, basically, could be done to prevent instances like this happening in the future.

Sen. McCain didn't just say it wasn't in your area of responsibility. He said it wasn't in your area of expertise. You're a doctor. You've served in the military. You're a marksman. What impact can these weapons have?

These weapons, they're really designed primarily for one purpose, which is to kill human beings. I think most people agree that they're not optimal weapons for hunting. And even in the unlikely event of a home invasion, it's actually probably not even the best weapon for that use either.

So my concern came from the perspective of a doctor who's familiar with these weapons. I feel personally comfortable around them, but these are military weapons, in my opinion, and really do not have a place, at least in an unrestricted environment, in people's hands.

Senate armed services committee chair John McCain told Winslow that civilian gun control is outside his area of expertise. (Keviin Lamarque/Reuters)

As a doctor, what kind of damage have you seen from them?

I deployed four times to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan so I've certainly seen first-hand the devastating sorts of injuries that assault weapons do to human beings — the saddest of which, honestly, was being called to the morgue on a base in Baghdad almost every night during the surge to pronounce death in coalition soldiers who had died in combat that day.

I won't describe to you what those injuries are like, but they're very horrific.

Winslow says the devastation caused by automatic and semi-automatic weapons is 'horrific.' (The Associated Press)

What happened after the hearing?

Essentially, my confirmation was put on hold by the Senate armed services committee. 

And were you given any reason for that delay?

I was told by the Pentagon legislative affairs team that it was, No. 1, because of my comment about assault weapons in civilian hands.

So the confirmation was delayed. How long did that go on? Did you have communications with them to see what was happening?

When I spoke to [Defence Secretary] Gen. [Jim] Mattis about two weeks ago, I wanted him to know that I felt very strongly that we needed someone in that position ... and that our servicemen and women deserve that, and that I did not want this to be drawn out any further.

So I offered to Secretary Mattis that I withdraw my name from nomination and he agreed that that would be, at this point, the best course of action.

U.S. Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis agreed it would be best for Winslow withdraw his name for consideration, Winslow said. (Virginia Mayo/Associated Press)

Are you disappointed you won't be able to hold the position?

This would have been a very challenging and very important job that I would have enjoyed doing.

Looking back over the process, do you regret speaking out about semi-automatic and automatic weapons?

I stand by what I said.


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