A new gun violence research center at UC Davis will be the first of its kind

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University of California President Janet Napolitano has announced plans to create a gun violence research center at UC Davis. It’ll be the only state-funded facility of its kind in the country–and will be jumpstarted with a $5 million state grant over the first five years.

The center will work with experts throughout the UC system. But it will be based at Davis because of research that’s already being done there by Professor Garen Wintemute, an emergency room doctor who has been studying gun violence for years. Dr. Wintemute has spent more than a million dollars of his own money to keep the research going after Congress cut off federal funding in the mid 1990s.

Dr. Wintemute will direct the UC’s new gun violence research center.

One of the center’s first jobs will be to collect basic information on who in California has been affected by gun violence and what the costs have been. But Wintemute said the center also plans to conduct a survey, asking Californians whether they own guns, and why or why not; and what their exposure to gun violence has been.

In addition to getting funding from the state, the center will also be looking to line up grants and philanthropic support. We asked him, couldn’t that lead to potential conflicts of interest and to research perhaps being biased? And this is what he had to say:

“We [he and his colleagues at UC Davis] do not take money from advocacy groups. It’s been offered. I turn it down. And if I’m director of this center, we’ll turn it down as well.

“One of the really important things for people to understand is that our work is not motivated by a policy agenda. We are scientists. I trained as a biologist and a neuroscientist. I have a real interest in relieving suffering as a clinician, but an obligation to do good science. And good science is driven by the data and is subject to an obligation to report the results of the work–whatever those results are. When we think there are policy implications to the research findings, we’ll lay those out. But we’ll do that, regardless of what the implications are–where they fit on some predetermined spectrum that runs the gamut from pro-gun to anti-gun positions.

“I am not an anti-gun person. I enjoy shooting–it’s one of the things I’ve had to give up, just for lack of time. I used to be pretty good at it. [But] I am very interested in preventing violence. There isn’t going to be the one thing that needs to be done to prevent firearm violence–just like there isn’t the one thing to do to prevent heart disease or to prevent cancer. Lots of things need to be done.”