NEWS | January 28, 2013

Making policy changes to reduce gun violence

Comprehensive background checks, denying firearms purchases for all violent misdemeanor crimes and history of alcohol abuse among measures world's leading gun-policy experts recommend.


Research by Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program and professor of emergency medicine at UC Davis, forms the basis for several recommendations put forward earlier this month at the summit on Reducing Gun Violence in America, an event organized by the Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health that brought together 20 of the world’s leading gun-policy experts representing the fields of law, medicine, public health, advocacy and public safety to summarize relevant research and its implications for policymakers and concerned citizens.

New book includes research and perspectives of public health, law enforcement and policy experts to inform the debate on proposed gun regulations and reforms. New book includes research and perspectives of public health, law enforcement and policy experts to inform the debate on proposed gun regulations and reforms.

Wintemute presented the results of his leading-edge studies at the summit and consulted on the group’s collective recommendations to inform the policy debate and help lawmakers and opinion leaders reduce gun violence in the U.S. His presentations on “Broadening denial criteria for the purchase and possession of firearms” and “Comprehensive background checks for firearm sales: Evidence from guns shows” are featured in the book Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis.

Published by Johns Hopkins University Press, the book includes summit presentations by legal scholars who weighed in on the constitutionality of recommended policies and other researchers who provided new data on public support for a wide array of policies designed to reduce gun violence.

“Research clearly shows that it is possible to change policies to reduce gun violence without violating constitutional rights,” Wintemute said. “We know a violent criminal history increases the risk for future firearm violence and crime and that denying gun purchases to this high-risk population is both feasible and effective. Yet few states have policies expanding denial criteria to include persons convicted of any violent misdemeanor crimes, such as assault and battery and brandishing a firearm.

“We also know that alcohol abuse is a major risk factor for firearm-related violence of all types, yet there are no policies in place that deny individuals with a history of abuse from purchasing or possessing a firearm. The recommendations from the summit address these and other shortcomings in federal policy, including the need for comprehensive background checks for all firearms sales, especially private-party sales, a leading source of guns among those who are prohibited from owning them legally.”

Wintemute’s investigations have produced a uniquely rich and informative body of research on firearms violence that directly improves the health and safety of Americans and that has positioned California as a national leader in efforts to break the cycle of gun violence.

Wintemute’s studies have shown that In California, where policies denying firearm purchases to persons convicted of all violent misdemeanors have existed since 1999, criminal convictions account for 80 to 90 percent of denials, and convictions for violent crimes account for 40 to 55 percent of denials. His work has found that alcohol abuse is a risk factor for crime, and that the prevalence of excessive drinking is increased among firearm owners along with other behaviors that increase the risk for violence. And his landmark work on private-party gun sales has demonstrated the need for comprehensive background checks for all gun sales nationwide.

“Such changes won’t end firearm violence, but they will reduce it, and that is a goal worth fighting for,” he said.

UC Davis Health System is improving lives and transforming health care by providing excellent patient care, conducting groundbreaking research, fostering innovative, interprofessional education, and creating dynamic, productive partnerships with the community. The academic health system includes one of the country's best medical schools, a 619-bed acute-care teaching hospital, a 1000-member physician's practice group and the new Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. It is home to a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, an international neurodevelopmental institute, a stem cell institute and a comprehensive children's hospital. Other nationally prominent centers focus on advancing telemedicine, improving vascular care, eliminating health disparities and translating research findings into new treatments for patients. Together, they make UC Davis a hub of innovation that is transforming health for all. For more information, visit