Handgun stripped
Credit: Hrd10/Wikimedia Commons

California is having one heck of a week. Not only is its recent boom (in contrast with red-state economic declines) proving that the blue-state economic model works while the red-state one fails, it reclaimed its role as the world’s 6th largest economy. Not bad for a state that conservatives have mocked relentlessly as a failure out of step with the country at large. Rather, it looks increasingly that California is the politically progressive, economically and racially diverse model for the future of America.

California is also showing that when Congress won’t act, it has the resources to do the job instead. In this case, since Republicans refuse to allow studies on gun violence, California has decided to fund those studies, anyway:

SCIENTISTS HAVE BEEN collecting data on car crash deaths and casualties for decades. Studies of the dangers of tobacco number in the many hundreds. But the US government has never funded a research center to study gun violence. Yesterday, the California legislature approved a budget allocating $5 million to establish the California Firearm Violence Research Center. This information really wants to be free.

Instead of arguing vapidly over the connections between gun violence and myriad social factors like mental illness, religious extremism, sexual entitlement, domestic violence and the like, we’ll actually be able to have some real data to work with for a change.

Ideally, the center will benefit from unhindered access to the state’s gun violence data, and be able to examine the ways it has changed over time as policies shifted—which should make for some robust research. Wintemute wants to see the center dive into everything from assessing policy effectiveness to evaluating whether there’s a connection between gun violence and alcohol abuse.

Understanding what has gone well or badly in California will apply to the rest of the United States, but it obviously won’t be enough to solve America’s gun problem. Federal funding drives the public health research agenda, and $5 million is barely a pellet of birdshot compared the ammunition the Feds deploy on other scientific problems. Still, Wolk thinks bringing any clarity to the conversation is a step in the right direction. “Until the government comes to their senses, the problem is so large and serious that everyone should have a shared policy conversation,” she says. “Research will help us move in a direction that establishes common ground. This isn’t about whether the Second Amendment is good or not.” Good science and access to information ought to be principles any side of the gun issue can agree on.

Still, though, the right wing won’t like it one bit. And why not? Because they know what the researchers are likely to find: that a variety of social factors may have some small impact on gun violence and mass shootings, but in the end it’s mostly about access to the gun itself.

But at least we’ll have more than speculation and international comparisons to assert that reality. We’ll have actual science based on domestic data, thanks to California’s efforts.

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Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.