What GVP Needs It May Finally Get: A Government-Funded Research Center Conducting Research On Guns.

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.)

         G. Wintemute, M.D.

G. Wintemute, M.D.

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.

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There’s A Ballot Initiative Coming To California And The NRA Better Watch Out.

Everybody knows that the United States was formed by settlers who moved from East to West. But whether it’s Ronald Reagan or Half-n-Half, what starts in California usually then moves back East.  Which is why when a citizen’s ballot initiative to limit magazine capacities and ammunition sales in California was first announced back in January, the NRA threw an especially big fit because they know that if this kind of measure can be passed in our most populous state, then gun-control legislation can pop up anywhere and no amount of Capitol Hill noisemaking can necessarily hold the line against such reforms.

ammo           The California initiative is particularly interesting because, for the first time, it is aimed (no pun intended) not just at the regulation of guns, but the regulation of ammunition as well. And for all the talk about gun violence on both sides, what is rarely mentioned is the fact that while gun ownership is more or less regulated in all 50 states, the control of ammunition is usually left entirely undone.  For example, despite a strongly-held belief among many GVP advocates to the contrary, most internet gun sales involve a background check before the buyer can actually take possession of the gun.  But in most states that same buyer can purchase an armory-full load of ammunition for that same weapon and there is no requirement that such purchases be tracked or reported at all.  The Aurora shooter, James Holmes, for example, amassed a stash of more than 6,000 rounds, much of it bought online.

To a certain degree the California initiative follows from ordinances that were passed in Los Angeles and Sacramento which require that ammunition purchasers identify themselves in face-to-face transactions with ammunition sellers, and that the latter keep records of everyone to whom they have made a sale.  The problem, of course, is that these laws are only useful to law enforcement engaged in an investigation after-the-fact; they really don’t do much to prevent ammunition from getting into the wrong hands before it’s used in an improper way.   The new ballot initiative, known as “The Safety For All Act,” would require a background check for all ammunition sales, making California the first state to impose the same requirement for ammunition purchases that exist for the purchase of guns.

Frankly, if I were the NRA, I’d be freaking out too.  And I would be particularly freaking out right now because the folks who are spearheading the effort to put this issue on the ballot have just announced that they have collected the necessary 365,880 signatures to put the item before statewide voters this Fall. Actually, they are going to submit over 600,000 signatures, because like all citizen initiative campaigns, signatures on a petition are one thing, valid signatures are something else.  But I get the clear sense that putting this issue before the voters come November is really a done deal.

You know, of course, that the NRA will pull out all the usual 2nd-Amendment stops to try and defeat this bill, but in a funny kind of way they are hoisted by their own petard.  Because the NRA doesn’t let a single day go by without reminding the world that they represent the most law-abiding citizens on God’s green earth; namely, the folks who under law (a law that was supported by the NRA) are allowed to own guns.  So if the government imposes the same legal requirements on ammo that it imposes on guns, why should any good-guy citizen (or non-citizen, for that matter) have a problem with this law?

This ballot initiative is also going to test one other, heartfelt NRA argument, namely their self-promoting nonsense that they are a true, grass-roots movement whereas the other side is an artificial creation of Mayor Mike and his big bucks. Let’s see how that one flies in the Golden State – it sure didn’t work when I-594 was passed in a state right up Interstate 5.