In the 20 years since, the CDC has repeatedly asked Congress to approve more funding to research gun violence prevention, to no avail.
The NRA, which currently spends about $3 million annually on political lobbying and advocacy
, is one of the most prominent opponents of reinstating the CDC’s funding on gun issues. In December of 2015, shortly after the San Bernardino shooting, NRA Executive Director Chris Cox wrote an op-ed for Politico
asserting that the CDC could not be trusted with gun research due to its alleged bias.
“It’s not objective data gun control advocates seek,” Cox wrote. “They have a pre-determined outcome. Now, they just need some government-sponsored, taxpayer-funded data points to validate their anti-gun agenda.” The NRA did not return multiple requests for comment on this story.
Dr. Wintemute doesn't buy the accusations of research bias. “Research is about discovering and reporting the truth,” he said. “The people who have been doing this work for a long time are not agenda-driven. We are scientists.”
Dr. Wintemute has spent the past 35 years researching gun violence. His center operates on a yearly budget of about $1 million per year, and is currently researching issues, such as whether alcohol abuse affects gun violence, and how well the current system of background checks functions in California.
He said that even though institutions like his are doing what they can, nothing can replace the CDC’s capacity to conduct large-scale, in-depth research. “There’s nowhere near enough federal funding to meet the need, or even specifically to fund the really good projects that people propose,” Dr. Wintemute said.
For one state, that might be about to change. In mid-June, the California
voted to allot $5 million to create the country’s first center dedicated solely to firearm research
, becoming the first state to move to allot budgetary funds specifically to gun research, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. The timing is tragically appropriate — though the legislation had been in the works for months, it passed only a few days after the mass shooting in Orlando, FL.
Dr. Wintemute, who has since been tapped to lead the center, says that better funding could be a game-changer regarding the type of information researchers are able to provide. “Currently, we work on a project-to-project basis. What [increased] funding would allow a center to do is to think long-term about what work is in the public’s best interest,” he said. According to Dr. Wintemute, the most important thing to figure out is how well — or even if — efforts to curb violence are working.
"In general, there’s no part of firearm violence and its prevention about which enough is known," he said. "But if I had to put something at the top, it would be the answer to the general question, 'What works?'"
Maybe this year will be his chance to find out.