In summary

The Attorney General’s office is blocking access to key data that gun violence researchers need; AB 1237 would remove the red tape.

By Phil Ting

Assemblymember Phil Ting, a Democrat from San Francisco, represents the 19th Assembly District, Assemblymember.Ting@assembly.ca.gov. He is the author of AB 1237.

Josh Becker, Special to CalMatters

State Sen. Josh Becker, a Democrat from Menlo Park, represents the 13th Senate District, Senator.Becker@senate.ca.gov. He is the co-author of AB 1237.

Gun violence is America’s other epidemic. While the deadly coronavirus has our full attention, gun violence still rages on, claiming nearly 40,000 American lives a year – nearly 3,000 here in California

Just as science and research are helping us fight COVID-19 with new vaccines and therapies, evidence-based approaches are essential to end widespread gun violence. Unfortunately, bureaucrats at the state Attorney General’s office are blocking access to key data that gun violence researchers need to do their important work. California needs the red tape removed, and we’ve introduced new legislation, Assembly Bill 1237, to accomplish that.

Five years ago, the California Legislature created a Firearm Violence Research Center at UC Davis. Its main mission is to help our state and the nation understand violence and how it can be prevented. Researchers then take their findings to elected officials and other leaders, guiding them on evidence-informed prevention policies and programs to reduce the number of firearm deaths. The ultimate goal is to save lives. 

Studies conducted by the center and other California-based researchers have helped shape our state’s effective gun laws. For example, we have learned prohibiting firearms purchases by persons convicted of violent offenses helps prevent future crimes. In addition, an examination of the state’s red flag law suggests mass shootings were averted because court-approved gun violence restraining orders enabled the removal of weapons from people deemed dangerous.

Now, we are asking these same researchers to conduct further studies, including whether gun violence restraining orders are effective at stopping violence in other circumstances. But they cannot proceed because they lack access to the needed information. Such roadblocks could mean we may never discover other life-saving tools that could prevent tragedies. 

It’s unclear why obstruction of scientific research on an important social issue is happening. If bureaucrats are worried about a violation of privacy, those concerns are unfounded. In dozens of studies across more than 30 years of research on firearm violence in California, funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Justice, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and California’s own Department of Justice, there has never been a breach of personal information. Never. 

We need reliable research on gun violence more than ever, as early numbers suggest an unfortunate increase during the pandemic. Now is not the time to cut access to critical information. AB 1237 makes key information available to the Firearm Violence Research Center, in addition to qualified scientists at Stanford and other universities, so their research to prevent gun violence can continue. It guarantees strict privacy protections, while also removing the handcuffs placed on our scientists.

Data is the foundation of research, whether in the medical arena or any other scientific pursuit. Without it, the path forward is difficult. No vaccines. No fix to climate change. No end to gun violence. Give scientists the data, and they can give us their findings, so we can craft public policy to solve problems.

We ask the Legislature to pass AB 1237 and allow our greatest minds to return to work ending the violence pandemic here in California and across our great country. Lives depend on it.

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Assemblymember Phil Ting has also written about a budget proposal sending a clear signal on clean transportation.

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