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How Scientists Are Getting To The Bottom Of California Gun Deaths

Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency room physician at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center, poses for a photo at the hospital in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday, March 9, 2017.

Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

A new Firearm Violence Research Center at UC Davis aims to explore the risk factors behind gun deaths, and ultimately prevent them. 

The center is headed by Dr. Garen Wintemute, a UC Davis professor who has been working in gun violence prevention for 30 years.  It's the only state-funded gun research initiative in the U.S., and the first major project since the federal government slashed funding for the topic in the late 90s.

Wintemute said the 20-or-so researchers will start with surveys in emergency rooms. Doctors will try to determine when owning a gun, or just being exposed to one, was a factor in an injury.

“Every major trauma center sees lots and lots of people who’ve been shot," Wintemute said. "Those people are at high risk as a group of being shot again, and either injured again or killed.”

There will be added focus on firearm suicide, which is about twice as likely as firearm homicide nationally.

The researchers will also look at the effect of California policies that require background checks on firearm transfers.

That’s worrying to Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California.

Considering Dr. Wintemute’s 30-year history of advocating for gun control, Paredes feels the center might have an agenda.

Still, he said he supports research as long as it’s fair and accurate.

“Whatever questions are asked, there should be no preconceived result that is trying to be justified by the research," Paredes said.

The center was created with $5 million in state funding. Scientists must report their findings by the end of the year, and every five years after that. 

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