New California gun violence research center first of its kind in U.S.

A UC Davis research center is geared toward studying gun violence.

From horrific mass shootings to Monday night's fatal shooting in Stockton, it's clear gun violence is a complicated problem that's impacting our communities.

Over the next five years, $5 million of California taxpayers' dollars are funding a research center to study just that.

It's called the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center, and it's headed up by Dr. Gary Wintemute, of UC Davis. He has been an emergency medicine physician and gun violence researcher for some 30 years.

"People are dying and we can't simply ignore that," Wintemute told ABC10 on Tuesday.

The research center opened in early July and is the first of its kind in the nation, in that public dollars are funding research about gun violence.

Firearm violence is more than just homicide and assault. It also includes suicide by gun.

"In the last 10 years, more civilians have died from firearm violence in the United States than we had combat fatalities in World War II," Wintemute said. "That's true of any 10-year period you care to mention. We need to know more about this problem so that we can do more to prevent it."

In California, Wintemute said, suicide by gun is 25 percent more common than homicide by gun. Nationally, suicide by gun is twice as as common as homicide by gun.

"When we think firearm violence, because we think homicide, we think about the high risk group being young men of color," Wintemute said. "But for suicide - twice as common - the group at highest risk is middle-aged and elderly white men, so I sometimes point out, we very much underestimate how much firearm violence is an old white guy problem."

He said more than 30,000 people die each year in the US from firearm violence.

"One of the things we are justifiably proud of in the United States is our ability to mobilize when confronted with problems...we have put smart people and substantial research support on the case and we're making a difference," Wintemute said, citing motor vehicle deaths, heart disease, cancer and - currently - opioids. "With firearm violence, we consciously, repeatedly took precisely the opposite tack and chose to turn our backs."

He said he wonders how many people are dead today "who would be alive if we had done the research that people were geared up to do 20 years ago and more recently and that research had prevented the deaths that instead have occurred?"

The new UC Firearm Violence Research has already launched several projects, including the creation and distribution of a survey to study gun ownership in California, a study of people who come to emergency departments with gunshot wounds and research into law enforcement and gun violence both directed at them and at their hands.

Some have voiced concerns this center is doing the kind of research the National Rifle Assocation - the "gun lobby" doesn't want done.

We asked Wintemute about this.

"It's certainly not my objective to antagonize the NRA. My objective is to prevent firearm violence," Wintemute said. "Some of our research antagonizes the, if you will, 'gun control people,' too. Our job is to come up with the evidence and make the evidence public. The policy and political considerations follow secondarily."

The state legislature has appropriated five million dollars over five years to fund this research center, so any policy recommendations won't come until more research is done.

"What I'm hoping, to be honest, is that the new center here in California won't be unique for very long, that there will be others, that other states will say, 'We have a problem here, too. Let's us take this one," and within a few years there will be a network of state centers," Wintemute said.

Learn more about the research center by clicking here

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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