On Thursday, the California Legislature allocated $5 million toward the creation of a new research center dedicated to providing data on the efficacy of current gun control laws.
The proposal to create the center, whose $5 million funding will be apportioned over a five-year period, was part of a larger “trailer” bill that was a component of the new state budget. That bill — SB 1006 — was introduced in January by state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who stressed the importance of increasing the role of hard science in the gun control debate.
“I’ve been in the Legislature for many years, and I believe that research leads to better policies,” Wolk said. “We have lots of strong opinions but not a lot of data.”
Wolk said the bill received overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle, as well as from law enforcement. She added that the main opponents of the measure were the National Rifle Association and other gun-advocacy groups.
According to UC spokesperson Claire Doan, the specific details of the center’s creation — including where it will ultimately be located — are yet to be determined.
“The University of California is appreciative of the state funding, which comes on the heels of the Orlando tragedy,” Doan said in an email. “(It) underscores our need to better understand the impact of firearm violence.”
According to Craig Reynolds, Wolk’s chief of staff, the research center will be located at a UC campus to be selected by UC President Janet Napolitano with funding coming from the state’s General Fund. Reynolds noted that the legislation also allows the center to provide small grants to researchers at any UC campus.
Daniel Acland, a UC Berkeley assistant adjunct professor of public policy, said the “primary theory” on strict gun control laws is that they would help prevent dangerous people from getting guns more than they would deter such people from trying to acquire guns in the first place. He conjectured that the effectiveness of laws like background checks likely varies, hinging on the reasons individuals have for wanting to arm themselves.
“My educated guess is that whether gun control laws would dissuade someone from getting a gun illegally would depend on their motivation,” Acland said. “For someone who says, ‘I’m going to kill 50 people in a gay nightclub,’ they would probably keep trying to get a gun regardless of the law.”
The fact that the Orlando nightclub shooting coincided with the vote on the gun research bill was “a terrible, terrible coincidence,” Wolk said, though she added that the incident undoubtedly called attention to the urgency of legislative reform.
According to Wolk, federal study on the effects of gun control laws has been lacking since 1996 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention halted their research on the subject because of pressure from Congress and pro-gun organizations. She highlighted that, in light of this lack of “sound data” on gun control, the research center was particularly vital.
“We need to bring the power of science into the discussion,” she said.