SACRAMENTO -- California lawmakers have voted to establish a first-of-its-kind university program specifically designed to research gun violence, spearheaded by UC Davis at its Sacramento campus.
No matter how good emergency room doctors who handle gunshot wounds are, the fact is most critical victims of gun violence die before they ever get to a hospital.
"I've always been interested in preventing the tragedies that bring people through our front doors in an ambulance. I need to help prevent people from getting shot in the first place. And it's just that simple," said Dr. Garen Wintemute, UC Davis professor of emergency medicine.
That has driven Wintemute to make studying gun violence his life's work. He doesn't approach it like a political issue, he approaches violence through the eyes of a doctor, like it's an illness.
"If violence isn't a health problem, why are all these people dying from it? So we approach violence in the way others approach cancer or heart disease," said Wintemute.
Monday, state lawmakers approved $5 million in state funding to create a university program dedicated to studying gun violence.
The program will run through UC Davis. Wintemute has been tapped to be its director.
The program is the first of its kind in the nation.
"If there is no data, then we can't have a meaningful conversation, then it's all about ideology," said state Senator Dr. Richard Pan.
Pan co-sponsored the bill that establishes the Firearm Violence Research Center and is behind another bill that mandates the state to track violent deaths.
Federal funding for research into gun deaths has largely dried up. In the 1990s the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped studying the issue after congress threatened to strip its funding.
Pan says researching gun violence is arguably the best first step to stopping it.
"We study things like traffic accidents, not because we want to eliminate or ban cars. We want to make them safer," Pan said.
"I think this is huge," said Wintemute, who has been studying gun violence for 30 years already.
The new center would give him new resources to examine each deadly shooting in California.
If the center gets final approval, he hopes to identify the real cause of each shooting and begin diagnosing the problem.
There was opposition to the research center opening from the Firearms Policy Coalition, an active pro-gun lobbying group. The FPC put out the following statement:
"As you can tell from our opposition this entire legislative session, Firearms Policy Coalition has always maintained that it was a sole source contract using taxpayer money to pay an anti-2nd Amendment activist at UC Davis to produce pre-determined outcomes to add faux legitimacy to the efforts to undermine our constitutional rights. Looks like our concerns were well founded."
The bill that provides the research center's funding has yet to be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. If the plan moves forward, UC Davis will have to present a plan as to how the center will operate to the UC President's Office by October 15.