FairWarining Reports

California Leaps into Crossfire on Gun Control With Push for Firearm Research Center

Editor's note: See update at the bottom of this story.

Gun show in Glendale, CA. (Eric Grigorian/Polaris)

Gun show in Glendale, Calif. (Eric Grigorian/Polaris)

A new battlefront has emerged in the nation’s struggle over gun control: a proposed firearm violence research center at the University of California.

In a move being closely watched by advocates on both sides, California lawmakers are pushing for the state to study gun violence, taking over a job the federal government dropped 20 years ago.

In 1996, Congress — persuaded by then-U.S Rep. Jay Dickey, an Arkansas Republican and self-proclaimed point man for the NRA on Capitol Hill — cut off funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that could be used to “advocate or promote” gun control.

Today, firearm violence in the United States accounts for more than 30,000 deaths a year. Despite repeated efforts to overturn the research ban, the restriction remains intact, preventing experts from answering vital questions about how to prevent gun deaths and injuries. That knowledge gap, in turn, has thwarted efforts to craft laws to reduce gun violence.

California State Senator Lois Wolk

California State Senator Lois Wolk

This story also published by:
The Crime Report
Capitol Weekly

In response, California State Sen. Lois Wolk last month introduced a bill to establish a firearm research center at one of the 10 UC campuses. The Democratic lawmaker – who represents Davis, a city that is home to a UC campus — said research is needed to design better gun policies, both in California and nationwide, while protecting the rights of gun owners.

Wolk maintains that lawful gun owners have nothing to fear from the research center proposal. “No one has suggested that we ban cars, but research has shown us that you can make them safer,” she said. “We could ban cars and thereby have no fatalities ever from cars. But that’s not going to happen, and that’s not going to happen with guns either.”

If approved, the state would provide “seed money” — Wolk estimates about $5 million over the course of five years — with the hope that foundations and other funders would chip in. The first hearing on the bill will be March 16 in the Senate Education Committee.

National gun safety groups, including the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, support the bill for its potential nationwide impact.

“We think it’s entirely appropriate for California to help fill that void and to support research that’s already being done,” said Ari Freilich, staff attorney for the group. “The nation is reaching a tipping point on this issue; there’s no upside to ignorance.”

“People are sometimes very surprised at how short a leash the gun lobby has Congress on,” Freilich added. “This is an industry that has successfully roped Congress into keeping the public in the dark.”

The National Rifle Association opposes the bill. NRA spokesperson Amy Hunter cited the reference to the ban on CDC gun research in the bill’s press release as an indication that the measure is intended to push gun control. “We have no reason to believe that this is going to be research that’s worthwhile,” she said.

Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California/Staff Photo

Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California.(GOC Staff Photo)

“We’re not against research, just against research that promotes and advocates for gun control,” Hunter added.

Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, took a similar stance.

Even though neither the UC campus that would house the research unit nor the center director has been determined, Paredes expessed concern that the center would be run by Garen Wintemute, an emergency room physician and prominent gun violence researcher. Wintemute currently directs UC Davis’ Violence Prevention Research Program, producing studies that have been funded, in part, by his own money.

“This seems like the Dr. Garen Wintemute Full-Employment Act. Frankly, we don’t want our tax dollars going to a research operation that has been nothing but anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment and pro-gun control,” Paredes said.

Paredes predicted, however, that the measure would pass. “We’re pretty sure that they’re going to cram this down our throats,” he said, referring to Democratic lawmakers.

Wintemute confirmed that his program will vie for the research center, if the law is passed. And if Wintemute faces political pressure, he will be prepared. He said he’s even been the target of death threats in response to his research. But he pointed out that scientists investigating climate change, tobacco and even motor vehicle safety also have faced resistance.

“The common thread is that there are economic interests that see themselves as being put in jeopardy by the research,” Wintemute said. “Over the long haul, the public’s interest comes out on top and precedence is given to reducing injury and death over protecting a narrow economic interest.”

Dr. Garen J. Wintemute, professor of emergency medicine and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis School of Medicine. (Photo by Emi Manning)

Dr. Garen J. Wintemute, professor of emergency medicine and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis School of Medicine. (Photo by Emi Manning)

Wintemute was inspired to start researching gun violence by his work in emergency medicine. He saw that most gunshot victims die on the spot; by the time they get to the ER, it’s too late. So he decided to focus on preventing gun casualties in the first place.

According to Wolk’s office, the lawmaker was motivated to move ahead with her bill after reading an op-ed co-authored by Dickey, who had a change of heart in the years after his amendment cut off gun research at the CDC. Dickey has joined forces with his one-time foe, Mark Rosenberg, who in the 1990s was the director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. The two have thrown their support behind Wolk’s bill.

Rosenberg said before effective policies to combat gun violence can be adopted, more research is needed to answer many questions: Do armed teachers make children safer or does it put them at greater risk? What are the effects of open carry laws? When firearms are permitted on college campuses, are lives saved?

Yet Rosenberg faulted the gun lobby for its long-running “zero tolerance” policy against research.

“They told people, if you allow research, you’ll end up losing all your guns. It’s either the research or your guns. You can’t have both,” Rosenberg said. He said that perspective, is both wrong and “one of the really big obstacles in this whole area.”

3/24/2016 update: ​On March 16, the bill, SB 1006, was approved in a 7-2 vote by the Senate Education Committee after its first policy hearing. The measure was sent to the Public Safety Committee for another hearing.
Print Print  

10 comments to “California Leaps into Crossfire on Gun Control With Push for Firearm Research Center”

  1. Gun Safe

    A firearm research center is a good idea though, I hope this initiative will see the light of the day

  2. kno1uknow

    I can save you researchers 5 million dollars. Just look at Chicago, Illinois. They banned guns, and have the highest gun violence, and murders in the nation. How obvious is that? Or, is it the water most are drinking?

  3. My Gun Safe Guide

    WE should use our guns safety! Thank for the article!

  4. Matthew Mabey

    Some of the research questions posed in the article are rather problematic. Despite all the headlines, mass shootings, school shootings, or shootings where armed, law-abiding citizens are also present are all very rare events. Thus, researching the effectiveness of such prevention measures (especially in the current political environment) will be very difficult, regardless of funding.
    Of the deaths due to firearms, suicides are 63%. Given that only roughly half of suicides are by firearm, I think it is reasonable to assume that most would find another means if a firearm were not available. This is certainly worth researching, but I suspect that it isn’t covered by the ban on federal funds.
    Accidental shootings are a very small fraction (1.5%) and we as a society have been making steady progress in improving safety in this area, very similar to progress that is occurring with automobiles.
    Alcohol not only gets credit for killing people directly. It is also unquestionably a factor in motor vehicle deaths (that are tracked to some degree). Alcohol almost certainly contributes to firearm suicides, firearm homicides, and firearm accidental deaths. Does the ban on federal funds cover research into indirect alcohol-induced mortality? I’m guessing that it does not.
    That brings us down to the 11,208 annual firearm homicides. Some of these likely involve alcohol as mentioned above. Is research into gang violence covered by the federal funds ban? Apparently not, since the CDC did a study on gang violence that is the subject of a news release on their website (http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2012/p0126_gang_homicides.html). So how many of those 11,208 homicides were gang-on-gang homicides, or otherwise criminal-on-criminal homicides. An answer could certainly be found through federally funded research on gang violence, or criminal violence. The one estimate I did find, ~2000, was based on methodology that quite likely produces an undercount in comparison the to data source for the total number of firearm homicides. It would seem that 20 to 40% of firearm homicides are likely bad guys killing other bad guys and fully permitted research could refine and add understanding to those numbers. Of the remaining homicides, a very disproportionate share are from the bottom 1/4 of the economic spectrum. This social dimension opens the door to studying the causes and impacts of poverty with fully permitted federal funding.
    My point in all this is that most of the broad issue of firearm deaths can be studied and better understood under the current rules. When the other commenters assert that this might really be about funding to promote a specific, predetermined policy position, I think they have a pretty good case. There is lots of interesting (if difficult) research to be done. But the vast majority of it can readily be done, with federal funds, under the existing rules. There will always be more research ideas than there are research dollars.

  5. Matthew Mabey

    One should never lose sight of the fact that there is a great deal of valuable, high-quality research accomplished in the US without using federal research funds. Precluding federal dollars for research in any one area of inquiry should never be confused with a ban on research in that area. It is true that much of the research establishment in the US is very dependent on federal funding, but it neither is, nor should be, the sole source of research funding.

  6. William Ashman

    Two points that need to me made:
    1. People can be dangerous. Some never. Some at a stressful point in their lives. Some all the time. Put a gun in their hands and you have trouble. Put a gun that shoots many rounds of bullets in their hand and you have REAL trouble!
    2. There are way too many deaths due to gun violence in this country. No one has the right to ban any research that can help this situation. That should be included in the Constitution under “Freedom of Speech”.

  7. Mark Smith

    MORE EVIDENCE. Wintemute adopts a pose of neutrality, but he has funded his own gun control advocacy with his family foundation’s money, more than $1 million.


  8. Mark Smith

    In 1994 Congress took testimony from both sides of the gun debate. Based on the evidence, Congress voted to permanently un-fund the CDC’s gun banners after extensive Congressional testimony showing how the CDC had used junk science to promote their political agenda. Here are two peer-reviewed articles pivotal in the Congressional judgment that summarized fallacies in the CDC’s work, the same danger in California’s feigned neutrality:

    Guns and Public Health: Epidemic of Violence or Pandemic of Propaganda?
    Don B. Kates, Henry E. Schaffer, Ph.D., John K. Lattimer, M.D., George B.Murray, M.D., AND Edwin H. Cassem, M.D. 61 TENN. L. REV. 513-596 (1994).

    Guns in the Medical Literature — A Failure of Peer Review
    Edgar A Suter, M.D., Journal Of The Medical Association Of Georgia, March 1994, 83(13).

    Wolk’s flawed guns and automobile analogy was putto rest 20 years ago: “The selectivity of the [automobile and guns] analogy is further apparent when we recognize that licensing and registration of automobiles is necessary only on public roads. No license or registration is required to own and operate a motor vehicle of any kind on private property. The advocates of the automobile model of gun ownership would be forced by their own logic to accept use of any kind of firearm on private property without license or registration. Since any state’s automobile and driver license is valid in every state, further extension of the analogy suggests that the licensing of guns and gun owners would allow citizens to “own and operate” firearms in every US jurisdiction. A national concealed firearms license valid throughout this nation would be a significant enhancement of self-protection, a deterrent to violent crime, and a compromise quite enticing to many gun owners.”

  9. Guest Guest

    Refer to comment above and ditto.

  10. Guy Smith

    Gun control policy is one of the most ridiculously over-studied topics in the world. You could spend the better part of a year just on the Bureau of Justice Statistics web site reviewing the studies and raw data. This doesn’t even touch peer-reviewed criminology papers, entire books on the subject written by both criminologists and economists, as well as international reviews of compatible datasets.

    Now, compare public critiques of Garen Wintemute’s work on the topic and how well it dove-tails into pro-gun-control ideology, and you see this is not an attempt to fill some mythical gap in knowledge, but to manufacture content to push one viewpoint.

    Of all the things California should not spend money on (aside from the bullet train) is to add poor-grade effluvium atop the existing mountain of respected research by actual criminologists, not doctors committing criminology malpractice.

Leave a comment