Garen Wintemute, an emergency room physician and public health epidemiologist at UC Davis Medical Center, is among the featured experts in the documentary “Gun Fight,” which premieres on HBO on April 13. The documentary, directed by two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple, looks at the complex issues surrounding firearms and debate over how best to reduce gun violence in the U.S.
Kopple and her film team shadowed Wintemute and emergency department physicians and nurses in December 2008 as they worked busy shifts. The level 1 trauma center cares for patients from a 33-county area of Northern California, treating more than 4,750 trauma cases each year. The documentary blends original footage with archival scenes to reflect America’s growing gun culture and its deadly impacts.
A professor of emergency medicine and director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program, Wintemute is a nationally recognized authority on the prevention of firearm violence and in the field of injury epidemiology. He pioneered the first studies that systematically recorded both questionable and blatantly illegal transactions at gun shows and revealed their potential to serve as places where criminals can easily obtain firearms. As part of his research, Wintemute has shown how illegal gun sales can be curbed through increased regulation without adversely affecting gun-show attendance or business.
The HBO documentary notes that there are an estimated 250 million guns in the United States today, and over the past dozen years guns purchased both legally and illegally have found their way into the wrong hands, resulting in a string of deadly shootings around the nation.
“I invited the documentary crew to our medical center because it’s crucial that people better understand the level of gun violence that emergency and trauma teams around the country deal with week in and week out,” said Wintemute, who has often used his free time to go undercover at gun shows and investigate how illegal gun sales are made. “My immediate goal is always focused on saving lives in our emergency room. But my larger focus has been on identifying and reducing the very causes of gun violence that injure or kill the people my colleagues and I see all too often.”
Kopple, who won Best Documentary Feature Academy Awards for 1977’s “Harlan County, U.S.A.” and 1991’s “American Dream,” obtained footage at gun-rights conventions and gatherings, following and interviewing people who were deeply committed to defending what they regard as their Second Amendment rights. “Gun Fight” uses the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre as a starting point to explore different aspects of the gun issue.
In the documentary, UC Davis physicians Erik Laurin, associate professor of emergency medicine, and Lynette Scherer, chief of trauma and emergency surgery service, illustrate the devastating impact of gun violence on health. The program also features Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre; Richard Feldman, a former National Rifle Association spokesman and lobbyist for gun manufacturers; Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence; Scott Melzer, assistant professor of sociology at Albion College and author of “Gun Crusaders: The NRA’s Culture War”; and Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation.
About the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program
The Violence Prevention Research Program is an organized research program of the University of California, Davis. Its work addresses the causes, nature, and prevention of violence. Our current major areas of emphasis are the prediction of criminal behavior, the effectiveness of waiting period/background check programs for prospective purchasers of firearms, and the determinants of firearm violence. Its mission is to conduct research that will further America's efforts to understand and prevent violence.