I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it many times again: when it comes to something new or different, it usually starts in California and moves East. Ronald Reagan? Half and Half? Avocado and sprouts on a white meat turkey sandwich? And let’s not forget what Donald Trump would like to forget – taco shells con beans.
It’s worth thinking about this when it comes to considering a new gun bill just voted by the California State Senate, SB1235, which basically requires the same background check process required for gun purchases to be carried out for purchases of handgun ammunition. The bill has been called the beginning of a ‘GunMegeddon’ by Breitbart and of course has got the NRA all up in arms (please no pun intended.)
But what I didn’t see mentioned by the NRA legislative watchdogs, although some local Gun Nation groups are trying to rally the gun bunch against it, is another bill that came through the Senate Education Committee, SB1006, which establishes a gun violence research center somewhere within the University of California system. The center’s mission would be to conduct research, train researchers, implement ‘innovative’ violence prevention programs and receive both public monies and private funds. In other words, what we have here, for the very first time anywhere, is an attempt to establish the equivalent of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, but with all the study focusing on guns.
Now I’m not saying there is any connection, but there happens to be a researcher at UC-Davis named Garen Wintemute, and this new initiative by the California state government sounds awfully like the gun research program that he funds largely from his own, private stash. In addition to being one of the country’s principal gun researchers, Wintemute is also an ER doctor, which means unfortunately that when it comes to gun violence, he gets to unite theory with practice, so to speak, because the ER is usually the first choice for anyone who needs medical attention after being wounded by a gun.
The gun research program at UC-Davis, like the gun violence work at Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center and the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins, limps along on a financial shoestring thanks to the defunding of CDC gun research in 1996. This year a little federal research money trickled down through the Department of Justice and the usual effort to restore the CDC funding has picked up a little steam. But don’t hold your breath folks, the NRA-compliant Republicans control Congressional purse strings, so that’s probably the end of that.
The biggest loser due to the lack of research dollars is not the absence of research per se. Granted, there are huge gaps in what we know about the causes and results of gun violence, but the basic notion that a gun is more harmful than helpful has been driven home time and time again. The much bigger problem, it seems to me, is that without funding, the field of gun violence research doesn’t attract scholarly attention, which means it doesn’t rank high on any institution’s list of research priorities, which means it doesn’t attract more young students and scholars looking to conduct serious research. When I was a graduate student, my own academic field – origins of early capitalism – had its own research society and held an annual conference that attracted several hundred scholars each year. Think there are more than 30 scholars engaged today in trying to figure out what to do about a problem that kills and wounds more than 100,000 people every year? Think again.
I would love to see this gun violence research center get established, and if it comes to pass, I hope the center will hold an annual scholarly meeting to help develop and strengthen the field. I guarantee that I’d show up for such an event and I promise to keep my mouth shut as well. Who knows? Maybe I could learn something, too.