CA must lead on gun violence research

  • by Alan Martinez
  • Wednesday August 3, 2016
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Alan Martinez
Alan Martinez

When my nephew, Chris, was murdered two years ago in the Isla Vista massacre near UC Santa Barabra, I thought that all the National Rifle Association did was block gun control legislation the every few years that such legislation appeared before Congress. But the NRA is doing much, much more. It is lobbying and proposing legislation constantly at the state and local levels. In 2015 the NRA and the gun lobby introduced 70 " that's right 70 " bills at the state level that would make guns easier to purchase and carry.

Bills that would force colleges to allow guns on college campuses have been introduced this year in 18 states " they have been defeated in 16 states so far. Bills to allow guns in K-12 schools have been introduced in 14 states and defeated in 12. Bills that would dismantle state concealed carry permitting systems and let people carry hidden, loaded handguns in public without a permit or training have been introduced in 22 states this year and been defeated in 13 so far. New Stand Your Ground legislation was introduced in six states this year and has so far failed in five. In addition to this the NRA and other gun lobbies have lawsuits pending against states and localities regarding existing gun control laws.

Who is currently fighting the gun lobby in the legislatures and the courts? Right now the fight is carried on by a variety of organizations: Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety, the Brady Campaign, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, No Notoriety, Sandy Hook Promise, Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and many other groups. It is a complex and constant fight, spread out over the entire country.

But the scene is not all bleak: last year Washington state approved, by a 59.27 percent majority, Initiative 594, which has put into place universal background checks. Nevada and Maine will have similar initiatives on their state ballots this November. When the issue is put to the voters, they support sensible measures to make gun ownership safer.

In 1996 Congress threatened to strip the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's funding if it did any research or collected any data regarding gun violence. As a consequence of this, the CDC will not be able to do such research until there is a Democratic majority in the House and a filibuster proof majority in the Senate.

In June the American Medical Association adopted a policy of calling gun violence a "public health crisis" and called for Congress to overturn the ban on gun violence research by the CDC. "Even as America faces a crisis unrivaled in any other developed country, the Congress prohibits the CDC from conducting the very research that would help us understand the problems associated with gun violence and determine how to reduce the high rate of firearm-related deaths and injuries," said Dr. Steven Stack on behalf of the AMA.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has called for research in the area of which firearms interventions are effective in reducing gun violence, research on the potential of different safe gun technology approaches, and research on the effect of video games and other media on gun violence. Between 2010 and 2014 an estimated 43,000 hate crimes committed in the U.S. involved guns. More than one in three hate crimes against persons is a crime of violence (Everytown, 2016). More research needs to be done in this area.

California already has some of the toughest gun control laws in the U.S. and more could be in California, but what is missing nationally is the funding for research on gun violence commensurate with the public health emergency it really is. This is where California could really step up to the plate by providing funding to the University of California and state university systems to do the research that the CDC is prohibited from doing.

Recently, state Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) successfully sponsored legislation to give the University of California $5 million over five years for research on gun violence. The best contribution that California can make to this fight right now is to fund a multi-campus research effort that would take the place of what the CDC would be doing if it could. This research is a pressing need that could inform and guide sensible legislation to make gun ownership safer. Since18.6 percent (FBI, 2015) of hate crimes are against LGBT people, and since more than a third of the crimes against persons involved violence, this is an issue for the LGBTQ community. We particularly need to have queer academics step up to the plate, put their thinking caps on, and come up with research projects in the area of gun violence in general and hate crimes in particular " we need to get the funding needs established and develop the grassroots political will to get the funding. Earlier this month the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club voted to ask the Legislature to provide such funding and I am hoping other LGBT groups will follow its lead. Since Orlando, people ask me what they can do to help with this issue. This is what California can do.


Alan Martinez is a San Francisco resident.