California State Senator Lois Wolk

California State Sen. Lois Wolk

California lawmakers have agreed to spend $5 million to open a first-in-the-nation gun violence research center, a move intended to circumvent a ban on federal firearm studies.

The research center, which would be based at a campus in the University of California system, would take 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.

As FairWarning has reported, that federal research ban has remained intact despite repeated efforts to overturn it, 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.

In February, California State Sen. Lois Wolk responded by introducing a bill to set up 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 — in a news release said, “We know that using real data and scientific methods, our best researchers can help policy makers get past the politics and find real answers to this public health crisis to help save lives in California and throughout the country.”

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, in the same news release, praised the measure and cited last weekend’s mass shooting in Orlando, Fla. “In light of the terrible shooting in Orlando—the worst mass shooting in U.S. history—it is more important than ever that we enact sensible gun safety reforms. One such reform is the creation of the Firearm Violence Research Center, which will fill the void created by the lack of federal gun research.”

In addition, Dickey, who had a change of heart in the years after his amendment cut off federal gun research, also expressed support. Dickey, in a joint statement 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, said: “It is crazy for any state to expect its legislators to vote on gun violence legislation if they do not know that it will be effective in both protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners and reducing gun violence. California is setting a very good example by supporting the research that will empower their legislators to protect both its citizens and their gun rights.”

The measure to fund the gun violence research center was part of legislation implementing a new state spending plan approved Wednesday by California lawmakers. It allocates the $5 million for the research center over five years. The office of Gov. Jerry Brown, who has to sign the annual state budget, had no immediate comment on the research center, but he is expected to approve it.

Firearm violence accounts for more than 30,000 deaths a year in the U.S.