The one thing that keeps me going is that people keep dying, and people keep being disabled, and survivors keep having to grieve. Whole communities continue to suffer psychological and economic damage. The problem is not going away.
Garen J. Wintemute,
(photo courtesy of the Regents of the University of California)
Emergency room doctors and nurses will tell you that violence takes an incredible toll on the public’s health. The California Wellness Foundation knew this in 1993 and continues to place a priority on violence prevention as a cornerstone of health and wellness. And, as with any threat to public health, continual research is key to understanding what needs to be done to stem the tide of trauma caused by violence. Garen J. Wintemute, a professor of emergency medicine and the director of the Violence Prevention Research Program (VPRP) at the School of Medicine, University of California, Davis, has been doing work funded by The California Wellness Foundation for many years.
One of the first results of funding under Cal Wellness’ Violence Prevention Initiative was a 1994 report authored by Wintemute titled “Ring of Fire: The Handgun Makers of Southern California.” The report identified six gun manufacturers encircling Los Angeles that produced nearly 686,000 so-called “Saturday night specials” in 1992 and manufactured a third of all handguns made in the United States. Those cheaply made handguns were disproportionately involved in crimes. The study was used by California cities to outlaw Saturday night specials.
“It was one of our greatest accomplishments,” Wintemute said. “Those local laws eventually created an opportunity and a mandate for laws at the state level. California banned the production of those guns, and those manufacturers chose not to relocate. As a result, there are very few of those guns produced now, and that is a good thing.”
As a professor of medicine, Wintemute clearly sees the connection between violence and health. “Gun violence, like infectious and chronic diseases, is a product of the environment,” he said. “A public health approach identifies which part of the environment is causing the illness and changes or eliminates the source of the illness. This is the work we do.”
A more recent focus of VPRP’s work is the regulation of the purchase and possession of firearms based on past repeated history of alcohol abuse. Related legislation was adopted by the California Legislature but vetoed by the governor citing lack of evidence. Wintemute is up to the challenge. “In the next year or two, a body of new evidence will be made available. In fact, we have just published a recent article on alcohol and firearm violence, and my contribution to the article was supported by Cal Wellness.” His research team also completed a study on stray-bullet injuries, which was partially supported by Cal Wellness.
Wintemute credits Cal Wellness’ core operating support for allowing his program to expand its capacity and leverage. VPRP has hired one new faculty member, an internationally known epidemiologist who works on the social determinants of health, and is recruiting another. “Cal Wellness’ core operating support allows us the freedom to respond to opportunities as they arise. That flexibility is very important when trying to make change,” he said. “Not only does Cal Wellness support our research, but the grants help to support the infrastructure that makes our research possible. We are making progress on providing research that leads to gun violence prevention legislation.”
Under the Advancing Wellness grantmaking program, Cal Wellness continues its commitment to gun violence prevention within the Promoting Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods grantmaking area. And, since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting limited gun violence research at this time because Congress continues to block dedicated funding, Cal Wellness’ support has become even more vital to the completion of research that can lead to effective policies and programs to prevent gun violence.
Visit Cal Wellness’ 20-Plus Years Preventing Violence page to read more about research, best practices and lessoned learned about what works in violence prevention, including resources from grantees, news and various Cal Wellness publications.
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VPRP Publications: Garen Wintemute
UC Davis Health System
Death Threats, Harassment, Intimidation: The Occupational Hazards of Being a Gun Violence Researcher
The Trace, November 10, 2015
Gun Myths Die Hard
Slate, October 27, 2015
Video – Garen Wintemute
UC Davis Development & Alumni Relations, February 18, 2015
Video – Firearm Violence and Its Prevention: From Scientific Evidence to Effective Policy
CalChannel, January 27, 2015
Meet the Doctor Who Gave $1 Million of His Own Money to Keep His Gun Research Going
Pacific Standard, April 28, 2014
Firearms Research: The Gun Fighter
Nature, April 24, 2013
Hot Guns: Interview with Garen Wintemute
“Frontline,” PBS, June 3, 1997