Editorials

A step toward shedding light on gun violence

One in three homes with children have guns, and 75 percent of children 5-14 know where the firearms are stored, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
One in three homes with children have guns, and 75 percent of children 5-14 know where the firearms are stored, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. TNS

On Tuesday, the California Senate passed legislation inspired by Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones’ policy of granting concealed-carry weapons permits to any law-abiding adult who wants one, whether his budget can afford the processing or not.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all knew whether handing out concealed weapons permits to “good” guys – 8,000 since 2010, when Jones took office – makes any of us safer, the gun owners included?

In California, gun-related homicide and suicide has fallen by more than 20 percent during the past 15 years. In the rest of the nation, the rate of gun-related death has been stable during that period. Why is that?

These and other gun-related questions might start getting answered, now that University of California President Janet Napolitano has awarded a $5 million state grant to the UC Davis Firearm Violence Research Center, courtesy of a budget earmark pushed by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis. UC Davis medical school professor Garen Wintemute, among the nation’s top gun violence researchers, heads the center.

Because gun violence is a national menace, Congress should fund the research. But that won’t happen, not so long as Congress remains in the thrall of the National Rifle Association. At the NRA’s behest, Congress two decades ago restricted funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for gun-related research.

That has left a vacuum, filled only partially by philanthropists, including Wintemute, who has used his own money to keep the lights on at his center on Stockton Boulevard. And now the state of California is stepping in. The $5 million earmark, spread over five years, is small in a state with an annual budget of $170 billion.

But Wintemute expects to leverage the money with private donations. And paper by scholarly paper, researchers will begin to shed light on the nature of gun violence and how to prevent it.

Wintemute will draw on researchers from other UC campuses and beyond. Already, he is working with a Stanford researcher studying the impact of decisions by sheriffs in San Diego, Orange and Sacramento counties to increase the number of concealed weapons permits.

Which brings us to the bill approved Tuesday, AB 450 by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento. McCarty introduced the bill after Sheriff Jones acknowledged he will spend $240,000 in general tax money this year to subsidize his practice of issuing concealed weapons permits as liberally as possible.

In time, we hope, peer-reviewed research will determine whether all those concealed weapons make us safer. But not all questions need detailed study. Gov. Jerry Brown should sign McCarty’s bill, and sheriffs should start charging people seeking conceal firearms permits the full cost of administering them.

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