Garen Wintemute, M.D. ’77

UC Davis To Launch Center for Gun Violence Research

by | Nov 30, 2016 | Fall/Winter 2016-17, Health, On Campus

Though no end is in sight for the two-decade-long dearth of federal funding for firearm violence research, the country’s first state-funded center is coming to UC Davis’ Sacramento campus.

UC President Janet Napolitano this summer announced plans to establish the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center, led by Garen Wintemute, M.D. ’77, a UC Davis emergency physician who has researched the epidemiology of firearm violence for more than 30 years.

The center will be funded with an appropriation of $5 million over the next five years, and experts from other UC campuses will collaborate. It will build on research already being conducted at the UC Davis Health System Violence Prevention Research Center, which provides scientific evidence to inform the development of effective prevention policies and programs.

“Gun violence is a public health problem,” said Wintemute, who also holds the Susan P. Baker-Stephen P. Teret endowed chair in violence prevention at UC Davis. “Many people die from it and many more are injured. People are put at risk. And communities are devastated.”

Wintemute is no stranger to the topic. He began trying to understand the nature of gun violence and its underlying causes in the 1980s, and has since produced research on such aspects as unintentional child deaths, regulatory loopholes and suicide.

There have been many twists and turns along the way: Among positives are major contributions to policy decisions such as bans on lifelike toy guns; the negatives include hate mail and death threats. The highly politicized funding environment has meant that Wintemute has spent more than $1 million of his own money in recent years to keep the work going.

Federal dollars from agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been heavily limited or nonexistent in the wake of congressional actions in the 1990s. Even so, Wintemute’s work has made an impact, said state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, the lawmaker who led the effort to fund the dedicated center.

“Research from UC Davis’ violence prevention research program has guided policymakers here in the Legislature and other state agencies for many years,” Wolk said. “We need to ensure that this important work continues despite congressional restrictions on funding firearms research.”

Over the years Wintemute’s research has angered both gun-control opponents and advocates. But the researcher said his work is not about a political agenda.

“We’re in the evidence business,” he said. “When the time comes that there is support for action on a topic, we all hope that policymakers and rule makers will use evidence to make their decisions. Our job, very simply, is to do everything we can to be sure that when leaders come looking for that evidence, it’s there waiting for them.”